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!

If Only I had known…

(I am so humbled to share this witness of a very beautiful friend.  Her story is one many women and couples can relate to, and by the grace of God, it is a story of redemption.  It is an honor to help her tell it. She saw her wrongdoing, asked for forgiveness, and by the grace of the sacrament has found the healing Jesus Christ offers to all.  She has found freedom in the Truth.  Please read, share, and pray for all who are hurt by abortion. -Karen)

If only I had known….
Watching the videos that have been released recently about Planned Parenthood’s practices has utterly broken my heart ..
I would like to share my story because if only I had known the truth back in 1981, I never would have had an abortion.
Years ago, at the wise old age of 21, I met Mr. tall, dark, and handsome. He swept me off my feet with a Tecate beer, a lime, and a smooth line. We enjoyed getting to know one another for a few months before we both decided to go our separate ways. Soon after, I discovered I was pregnant and was immediately filled with fear and dread. I was young and carefree, working a construction job to help me get by, and never considered the possibility of having an unplanned pregnancy. The thought of a baby was overwhelming and truth be told, I was in shock. My tall, dark, and handsome was happy to help me pay for an abortion.

I went to my trusted healthcare provider at the time, Planned Parenthood. They had provided me with birth control, which made me so sick I was unable to take it, and now they were all too ready and willing to help me get rid of the resulting problem. There were many voices weighing in and the majority reinforced what I wanted to hear. My sister alone was devastated at my pending decision to have an abortion and tried to talk me out of it. If only I had known the lifelong hurt I was about to cause her and myself.

My friend, on the other hand, offered her assistance and support in whatever way I needed. On a random summer day in 1981, she lovingly drove me to the clinic, so I could end the life of my child. I don’t remember a single detail of that day other than the incredible pain of the procedure. I was emotionally numb, but I felt the stark reality of life being torn from my womb. I buried that day deep down and simply wanted to forget. Though I never said it in so many words, a piece of me died that day, too.

If only I had known how that abortion would affect my future relationships and my self esteem. I muddled through the next 15 years, not recognizing that my relationships were doomed before they began because of my need for healing deep within.
In 1997, I found myself facing another unplanned pregnancy and I knew deep down that I needed to have this child. I had done some growing up, and though I was in no way prepared to be a mother, I listened to that inner voice despite all my fears. Today my daughter is the greatest blessing and the Joy of my life. At the moment of her birth, I could not fully comprehend the miracle that was her life. It changed me in my core and brought healing in many ways. I was confronted with the truth and reality of what I had done years before. I sought forgiveness and that forgiveness has brought me healing. My wounds became scars that I carry with me. They give me passion and compassion and for that I am thankful. My beautiful daughter’s life has taught me what I wish I had known before that fateful day when I carried out the worst decision of my life. 11825233_873754462661330_3274896396235406656_n
If only I had known that a baby’s heart beats at 25 days.
If only I had known that by 8 weeks a baby is fully formed. I had my abortion at 11 weeks.
If only I had known that “my trusted healthcare provider” didn’t really care about me at all. An abortion is not healthcare. Neither is birth control for that matter. If only they had told me that my baby was a living human being.
If only I had known the ripple effect my abortion would cause. My parents never knew their grandchild and my daughter has never known her sibling. That child may have been my only chance to become a mother. By the grace of God, I have my daughter.
If only I had known about all the help that is available when facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Currently, in the Syracuse area the following organizations are here to help:

Elizabeth MinistryHelps women with unplanned pregnancy and celebrates every child conceived.email elizabethministryrita@gmail.com http://www.jpiicenterforwomen.com/#!about1/cg67
Gianna Healthcare – (315) 488-3139 ext. 16
Prolife Restorative Medical Care http://www.giannasyracuse.com
John Paul II Center for Women 315-488-3139 x16
Promoting the Dignity of Women http://www.jpiicenterforwomen.com
Fertility Education and Care CenterHelping women unleash the power of their own fertility. http://www.fertilityeducationncare.com
Josephs’ House 315-701-4981 where pregnant women can live, have their babies, stay up to two years while continuing their education. Syracuse area. http://josephshouseforwomen.org
New Hope Family Services (315)-437-8300 Adoption services, pregnancy care, parenting education, post abortion counseling, clothing and items for children up to 2 yrs of age. 3519 James Street Syracuse. http://www.newhopefamilyservices.com
Life Call Crisis Pregnancy Centers http://www.lifecall.org Resources for pregnant women. Centers across the U.S.
The Regis Center-/New Hope 315-448-2300 – 1124 E. Genesee St. Syracuse https://www.facebook.com/regiscenterpage
New Life Crisis Pregnancy Center 315-963-2273 – 3349 Main St. Mexico, New York https://www.facebook.com/New-Life-Crisis-Pregnancy-Center-of-Mexico-NY-230642443733477/timeline/                                                                                    Project Rachel 855-364-0076 or email: hopeandhealing@syrdio.org. Post abortion healing.http://www.syracusediocese.org/diocesan-offices/respect-life/project-rachel-ministry/

I want women everywhere to know what I wish I had known. You and your baby are not alone. There is hope and healing for each of us~ always.

An open letter to our beloved Catholic clergy, here in the Syracuse Diocese, and everywhere

Dear Father (Bishop, Deacon, Brother,…):

On a Sunday morning in July, I arrived at Mass a mental, physical, and spiritual mess. The busy summer schedule had me running ragged in an effort to keep all my little darlings (7 of them) busy and happy, as well as meeting all of my basic responsibilities. As the weeks of summer wore on, the frenetic pace caught up with me and the physical toll meant that I started sleeping through my “prayer time” alarm every morning. That is always the first sign on the slippery road to spiritual wasteland in my experience. I felt like I was in a vast desert with no water in sight. I doubted that even Mass could restore me to peace.

This particular Sunday, we had some (all-too-common) teenager miscommunication and couldn’t get all the kids to Mass. It was either some of us or none of us, so I was overwhelmed with frustration at life in general and myself in particular. Couple that with grieving the recent loss of my mom, the 2 year-old still-stinging loss of my oldest daughter, and the 7 year-old ache of missing my first-born son, and this mama wanted to throw in the towel. I never would, but it’s the honest truth of how I felt. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, overburdened, and feeling inadequate and powerless to fix any of it. I truly love and live to serve as a wife, mother, friend, and member of the body of Christ, but often it’s a difficult and thankless job. (Often it’s not, but on this particular Sunday I had lost sight of the flip side). As the Mass began and the priest arrived on the altar, he looked right at me and said, “Karen, it is well, I am here to serve you.” OK, not really, but I heard it and felt it and in that moment my hope was restored because a faithful and devoted servant of God was standing his post.

Later, I wondered in awe at the sacrifice and dedication it takes to be a holy and devoted priest in the Church today. Do you get lonely, irritated, tempted, selfish, or struggle with obedience? I certainly do. Do you sometimes feel so overwhelmed by the tasks before you that hopelessness, fear, and despair rear their ugly head? That sounds familiar. Does living your vocation faithfully require determination, faithfulness, and lots of supernatural grace?  Welcome to my life.  As I contemplated our different vocations, (and forgive me if I’ve presumed too much), it dawned on me in a new way; if you can do it, then so can I. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.  I want you to know, your faithfulness shines like a beacon in darkness and brings relief to the desperate, like finding water in a dry desert.

I can’t imagine my life with the absence of the priesthood. I don’t want to imagine it either. You’ve been there in every joyful, difficult, sad, questioning, and holy moment of my life. You welcomed my children into the Church and to the body of Christ. By the power vested in you, you’ve absolved me of my sins and counseled me. You united my husband and me in holy matrimony thereby cementing my vocation. You prayed with us and for us in our times of devastating loss. You have been there, every single Sunday of my life, bringing Jesus truly present to this sinful and needy soul. At every Mass you are John the Baptist crying in the desert, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Without you there would be no need to respond with humility and need, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”. There would be no exchange. There would be no Mass. There would be no hope. Without you the tomb would always feel empty and hopeless.

I have experienced a taste of that hopelessness twice before. It’s a feeling that felt to me like Good Friday x1000. Twice now, we have held a wake to say goodbye to one of our children. Twice, we have greeted thousands and smiled and cried for hours on end. Twice, we have gone home afterwards to stumble through the longest night and wonder how on earth we would face the morning. The tomb was empty and so were we. Then twice again, we have said goodbye and closed a casket and trembled on our way to a funeral Mass, silently screaming to God to let this cup pass us by. Both times we arrived to escort a casket into church and approach an altar flanked with you holy men of God. Devoted in service to Truth, you were standing there like pillars of strength and compassion. You represented the reality of eternity when we were tempted to wallow in the temporal. You represented Resurrection! We needed you and you were there, many of you, silently screaming back to us that we were not alone. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together. We never walk alone. Those two funerals changed me in many ways, but the royal priesthood standing up for us is something I will hold dear forever.

I have felt since our son died seven years ago, that if his death helped bring one beloved soul home to our Savior then he did not suffer or die in vain. I would suffer it all again knowing how precious every one of us is to our Lord. The same is true for our daughter. So many beautiful testimonies of faith stemmed from her death and I know there is so much wisdom in allowing her to leave us. I freely offer Michael and Anna and trust in Jesus to work it all for good. I simply wanted you to know that by your faith this one soul has been soothed and saved.

From the very depths of my heart, I thank you:
I Thank you for answering your cell phone in the middle of the night when a terrified and desperate mother needed to know you were praying for her child.
I Thank you for going to the hospital, instead of to bed, to offer prayers and comfort when my mother was afraid and facing the end of her life.
I Thank you for the many house calls to unite our family in prayer when our son was dying of cancer.                                                                                                                                  I thank you for bringing Mass to our home when we were too distraught to bring ourselves to Mass.
I thank you Bishop for the personal hand-written, snail-mailed letter of encouragement and affirmation that renewed my strength again and again.
I thank you for your service to the kingdom of God.
I thank you for standing for truth, especially in the face of growing persecution for daring to speak it. The thing is, your faithful flock knows the Truth deep within and we need you to reaffirm it. The voices of the culture would have us buy into the lies and we might be tempted, if not for your voice of truth. As long as there is a spark of light, there cannot be total darkness.
I thank you for your prayers and Masses. You will likely never know what they have meant to me this side of Heaven.

May you have the courage to stand strong in this world as the tide rises against all that you have given your very lives for, and the fortitude to suffer for the Truth no matter what lies ahead. Just as you have reminded me time and time again, when you walk in obedience and service to the Truth, you never walk alone.
With gratitude, admiration and love,
Karen Pullano

“The Priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.  When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ∼St. Jean Vianney

Mom

So, my mom died this summer. Maybe if I write those words they will finally sink in. Just today I wanted to ask her a question and for a split second thought of sending her a message before remembering I can’t do that exactly. Yes, I know she is still with me, hopefully interceding for me as only a mother can. That is truly a gift, but it is not the same as having her here and all the faith and hope in the world doesn’t just make it better.

I’ve been here before in this familiar place of grieving, accepting, and changing. Losing my mom, so far, has not been quite like losing my children, although I know the twists and turns of grieving too well to know that could change. I will not make any sweeping blanket statements here. It could get worse. It could get better. It may do both. What I think right now is that there is something about the expected order of things that makes it a tiny bit easier to bear. Most of us grow up expecting that someday our parents will die. Or, maybe it’s because of a lifetime of growing independent and learning to say goodbye. First there was kindergarten when I went off to school, and later college, when I really went off to school, and then marriage and a family of my own; these events have all been preparing me. Each goodbye has been a necessary step in order to start something new. We just cannot stay the same. We grow up, we change, and we become more and more fully the person God created us to be. But growing pains hurt. Cancer hurts. My mom was just three weeks shy of her 68th birthday.In those moments when the loss is keen, it’s hard to find the joy in it. Human nature craves the comfortable sameness of the presence of the one we love, but death calls us to something different. Death forces our hand and calls us out of our comfort zone. It calls us out of our old selves and leads us to a new self, if we let it.

I have a choice in those moments. I have a decision to make and some work to do. I’ve written this before and I stand by it 100%. It takes determination and an act of my will to embrace the change that will come from the suffering. It takes an act of my will to acknowledge the pain of the moment or situation and then force that scene off of center stage. There are better scenes to play and I am the director calling forth new actors; the truth and reality that Heaven has grown by one and will one day be my own home. The truth is that God knows all and works all for my good if I turn to Him and love Him. I have to force myself to choose the desire for that Good of my soul over all else. The truth is that God alone is the source and summit of all happiness. The truth is that my mom wants nothing more than for me to seek and know the God she has stood before. She spent her life preparing me to go forth and she isn’t done simply because she is gone from my sight.

Yet it’s not supposed to be made all better simply because we have faith and hope in eternity. Losing your mother is a huge loss, an unparalleled loss, since there is simply no one else on earth that can be what she was. She gave me life and has been there for every minute of it since. Her absence now feels strange and unnatural and desperately wrong and yet this is the natural order of life. It is a wound that has to leave its mark in order to do a work in me. We don’t become new and emerge until we say a painful but necessary goodbye. I still have work to do and a purpose to fulfill. Lucky mom, she was done! She is living the reality I can only Hope in. She is preparing a place for me now just as she did 41 years ago. I know that saying goodbye this time is just one more step on my way to being ‘all grown up’. Goodbye, mom, until we meet again….

Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen

June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015  Denise M. Faisant Berger  7/12/47 – 6/23/15

A Resurrection Story

I have a beautiful story to share.  As our beloved Saint John Paul II once said, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” This personal story, written by my daughter Nichole, is the sweetest testimony to the healing power of Love and Prayer that this mother’s heart has ever heard.  I think the truest form of human suffering is born when we don’t know who we are as children of God – Beloved.  Only from this deep knowing of Love itself do we find Joy, and by its stripes we are healed. If you have ever said a prayer for our family, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Nichole Pullano
Personal Essay

Bottom Of The Wine Bottle

Life isn’t fair, and what’s even more unfair than life, is death.
So, there I was, only capable of existing. I sat back down in the waiting room of the hospital. We had been here for almost 8 hours now and I still had two more doctors to see. The room was kind of spinning and my eyes had grown heavy. They took my shoes so I didn’t have the option of using them to hurt myself. I looked around at the rest of the troubled people in the room. I was not like them, not at all, and yet here I was, sitting in the same waiting room as them. I had been to the hospital many times, but never like this and rarely ever for myself. The entire day was a blur and I still couldn’t seem to fathom what was real. By this point, I could feel nothing. I thought I was nothing, completely consumed by emptiness. The past few months had been spent constantly drinking myself into oblivion, somehow ending up stumbling through the same memories, and then watching the same crimson color fall from my skin. I had so many questions, most of which could never be answered. I was dark and lost, but I existed.
The smell of the room was familiar and distinct. It brought me back to when I used to visit the hospital every day. I lost most of my innocence when my three year old brother, Michael, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. We spent most of our time in his little hospital room, playing puzzles and reading stories with our other seven siblings. It seemed too quickly that his time ran out. After watching him fight for eight hard months, he lost his battle. And that was it; the beginning of the end of me had begun.
My parents sat with me in the waiting room, praying, hoping, and wishing for my healing. My poor parents. I couldn’t bear that I was putting them through more than what they were already dealing with, but I needed them. They are the only people that I will ever need. Ever. I was and am thankful to have them. They reminded me all the time that I was not alone in my struggles, that I didn’t have to simply just exist. They were always encouraging me to talk about anything and everything. They didn’t want me to feel how my older sister, Anna, had felt. Something about my brother’s death never truly left her, and she had the toughest time with it. I found that the way she talked about his death, was exactly how I was now talking about hers.
Anna was part of my everyday life; I knew not one day without her. Being only one year older than me, she was the one person that I had with me through everything; the closest thing I had to myself. Losing her was never an option. What frustrated me most though, was how unprepared I was. When I answered my phone that night, waiting on the update of the accident, I wasn’t ready. When I sat there beside her beautiful lifeless body, letting my tears fall to her, hoping she was catching them somewhere, I wasn’t ready. When I watched everyone I loved surround my family and her casket with their pained eyes and wet faces, I wasn’t ready. Looking through her clothes and other possessions and suddenly calling them all mine, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to face life without her, and I will never be ready. But that’s the thing about death; no one asks if you’re ready and nothing prepares you. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it happens. And it happened, and she was really gone and she wasn’t coming back. Sitting in that hospital room, wondering what I was going to do now, I knew that I wasn’t either.
The events leading up to my breaking point seemed unreal. I had no idea how I ended up where I was that day. It had been about a year since I’d lost my sister. Two weeks prior to my ultimate breakdown, I didn’t think it would be possible to lose anyone else I loved. I didn’t think I would be able to do it again, and I was right. When they called me to tell me it was true, I felt myself completely shut down. This was really happening again; I was really losing another piece of me and, once again, I didn’t get to say goodbye. I couldn’t comprehend why I was losing so many people that were close to me. Now, a widely-loved and hilarious friend of mine with whom I had grown close over the years, had joined the angels standing and waiting for me. Reed was someone I connected with, a rare connection that you wouldn’t come by often. He thought the world of me and he never let me forget it. I was confused, I was devastated, and somehow it seemed to get worse.
Since Anna’s death, I had become a popular figure in the media regarding death and my community. When someone passed, I was often quoted and questioned because I was ‘already a story.’ Upon hearing about another death at my high school, reporters were quick to begin writing an article, but this one was featuring solely me and Reed. It came out only a few days after his death and was my ultimate downfall. The article angered and offended many. Now, I was not only the girl that seemed to be cursed with death, but I was also the girl that used these deaths as a means of receiving attention. It was all about me all the time, they said. I had made many enemies with words that weren’t even my own. Most of my friends wouldn’t even look up at me in the halls; I didn’t talk to anyone. I began barely even existing. I was always dizzy and cold, drowning in my clothes and in my sadness. It was so unbearably difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. I was slowly and completely self-destructing. The weight of this burden was only getting heavier, and I was only getting weaker. I tried not to succumb. I tried to do it all by myself. I tried, but I couldn’t.
I had been holding on for years, upholding my reputation as the strong one. They were always watching me, a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Nothing was a secret; everyone knew, but they didn’t understand. No one lost what I had lost. I had grown to be so extremely weak. I had let myself exist for all those who could not. I didn’t think it would get better. Then I surrendered. That day, I found myself stumbling into a classroom, letting one of my teachers catch me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew I was done. I had completely given up. I was sobbing and shaking and uttering complete nonsense. I somehow found the words to express how I didn’t think I could exist anymore. I finally said things out loud that I had never before. I wanted nothing to do with this war of a life I had been given. The only thing keeping me here was what I had left of my family and that was my reality. So, my parents cried for me, and my teachers cried for me, and the few friends I had left cried for me. I had finally fallen. That’s how I ended up shoeless in a hospital room with the two people who would do anything to rid me of all pain. For weeks, it was nothing but doctors, medications, appointments, priests, check-ups, high points, and low points. I was finally on the road to recovery.
I think about these events every day, and how I’ve grown to think and act differently. Nothing ever returned to the way it was before. Michael, Anna, and Reed were all a part of me, parts I will always wish I could have back. When they died, these parts of me died too. It was a long and never-ending journey to find myself again. But what I found was that I was actually long gone. I am a completely different person and it took a lot of growing up to accept that I couldn’t return to my old life; I had to build a new one, always keeping in mind what I had learned.
These experiences have taught me so much about what I value and who I’ve grown to be. I’ve learned that one of the most precious gifts ever given is time. You aren’t always given much of it and it eventually runs out. I’ve learned that the smallest things can become the biggest things and it’s too easy to take them for granted. I have experienced real, genuine heartache, pain that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. But I learned that I don’t have to face it alone; it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to be weak sometimes. I realized that death, pain, and sadness do not have to consume me, peoples’ opinions about me do not have to define me, and what is out of my control does not have to ruin me. It is a choice. I know that this burden will always be there, and it will never get lighter, but every day I get a little bit stronger and a little more resilient. The day I truly accepted the unfairness of life, especially my own, was the day that I stopped existing and started living. Since then, I have learned to be happy and to appreciate what I have in front of me, praying every day that I can continue to find the good in all bad situations. I will always carry my memories with me, never forgetting where I’ve been and how I’ve felt, but I have grown. Today I am strong and whole as ever, knowing that I have the greatest souls above me and living on through me, and with them I am never alone.

FullSizeRender-4

Two years: A Lesson in Love

In memory AnnaMarch 2 2015

Today I count my blessings, and they are many. While there is no way I will be able to keep myself from reliving the events of this week two years ago, today I choose to be thankful. I am grateful for the tremendous light in the darkness. My blessings bring so much light and the more I focus on that light, the more the darkness fades away. I could fill pages with all the things I am deeply thankful for, but I think it all really boils down to one simple thing. God loves me profoundly.

I often ponder the idea that He has been able to show me His Love through terrible and tragic circumstances. How is it that He allowed the one thing that I begged Him, specifically and directly, to not let happen, and I learned love from that? I have so much wonder, awe, and thankfulness in my heart for having learned this Truth.

As I meditate on this, I am brought to an understanding that we can’t truly know the fullness of Love without suffering. The reality of God’s love for me is simply a reflection of my deep and abiding love for Him. Indeed, I offer my sufferings for Him every single day, because I love Him. He completes that sacrifice by returning his perfect Love tenfold. Truth be told, I would suffer it all again for Him, because I love Him. So many things are good and beautiful and inspire Love within us, but they are only a shadow of what that same Love will be after it is put through the refining process of trial and testing. I think of having children. I have heard it said, and know the feeling well myself, that you don’t know love until you bring life into this world. What a pure and beautiful Love that is. What a treasure and a gift! To then give that gift back to the Lord is an agony, but I tell you truly when I say, I didn’t know that depth of love until I did.

In no way do I glorify suffering for suffering’s sake, but I have seen the necessity, the benefit, for the human soul. In order to be a Christian, in order to follow Christ, we are called to one thing. We are called to Love. Our sufferings have the ability to reveal to us the one true goal of our life and object of every desire. We are created to Love and be Loved.

I share with you a quote that took my breath away when I first read it, by Leon Bloy from his Pilgrim of the Absolutes:

Suffering! Here then is the key word! Here the solution for every human life on earth! the springboard for every superiority, the sieve for every merit, the infallible criterion for every moral beauty! People absolutely refuse to understand that suffering is needful. Those who say that suffering is useful understand nothing about the matter. Usefulness always supposes something adjectival and contingent, and Suffering is necessary. It is the backbone, the very essence of moral life.
Love is recognized by this sign, and when this sign is lacking, love is but a prostitution of strength or of beauty. I say that someone loves me when that someone consents to suffer through or for me.

“Suffering is” not merely useful, but “necessary.” It’s a notion so radically counter-cultural that it is uncomfortable to even suggest, but it feels like so much wisdom to me. I trust in God wholeheartedly to know what is necessary for my soul and what will actually break me.
I am still standing, bathed in love and blessing, and can say one thing for certain; I hate suffering, but I love having suffered.In Memory Anna back

Thank you for remembering our beautiful girl with us two years later. Thank you for helping us shoulder this burden along the way by your Love and prayers. Jesus established His church, His body, His bride, and though we are many parts, I feel deeply connected and united as a whole. And while I value the joy, laughter, and good times that unite us, I find that it is truly the Love, prayer, and suffering that transcend time and space, knitting us together as one.

And speaking of wisdom, be sure to catch my “Reflections from the CrossTreadmillTreadmill” series on the Conversations with Sophia blog (Sophia being the saint and symbol of Wisdom). If you have read the first few posts, you know that I have a Love/Hate relationship with the treadmill that echoes my Love/Hate relationship with suffering! I have much more to share on that topic. HERE is the first post in the series if you missed it.:)

 

Dressed for Battle

So, last week passed me by before I could get my bearings.  It was the week Anna would have turned 20 and I was embattled in a war.  At the time, a treasured friend suggested I share the struggle because so many are fighting this same war, but I couldn’t,  even if I wanted to. The attack was from all sides, and it felt like all I could do was survive.

The war was partly with my own thoughts, urging me to seek comforts, stay busy, and not think too much. The war was partly with my own body and the mysterious internal clock that seems to know this is a momentous season, only there is nothing momentous happening. The war was partly with my own soul, left unguarded by lazy prayers and way too many distractions.  It’s all fun and games until it isn’t, I guess.  The war surprised me like a thief in the night, too.  I wasn’t on the lookout, with all my defenses fortified.  I was just suddenly paralyzed – mentally, physically, and spiritually, like a deer caught in the headlights, and it was not without consequence to my family, friends, and household.

The worst part is that in survival mode, I was lost, and it was nearly impossible to tell which way was up and out. The kids all wanted cake and to celebrate the day, but it just wasn’t happening.  I wanted to post a beautiful picture of Anna’s smiling face, for the world to see and remember her with me, but it just wasn’t

Remember Anna always

Remembering Anna always

happening.  I wanted to be the peacemaker, the caregiver, and the joyful light in our family, but I couldn’t find the source from which to draw the strength; I couldn’t find the way.

Mercifully, our Blessed mother grabbed me by the hand and helped me put one foot in front of the other.  I simply started praying the Rosary again each day… but I use the word pray loosely.  Merely listening to the Rosary on podcast while trying to keep my mind focused, was more like it, at first.  As I prayed, I meditated that Mary is no stranger to the fear and confusion of pain and suffering. Remember when Jesus was lost in the temple? Mary and Joseph retraced their steps back to God’s house until they found him.  Step by step. One foot in front of the other.  Back to God. What a journey that must have been, fraught with worry, second guessing, and fear.  Perhaps there were tears, or quick tempers, or frustrations born out of the uncertainty of what lay ahead, especially since Mary has been pondering since the presentation of the Lord, the message that a sword will pierce her heart.  No matter what else that journey was like, I know one thing for certain.  Mary retraced those steps in Trust and in Faith, not knowing what the near future would hold.

Almost two years ago, when my grief was new and raw, I prayed constantly, incessantly, as a means of survival.  There was such a deep union with God in my deepest pain, that I could no more stop praying than stop breathing. The Lord certainly is near to the broken-hearted.  Yet, what about when our hearts aren’t quite so broken?  That blessed union is something I’ve longed for since, but find elusive in the fading of intense suffering. How did I let go of that closeness and become scattered by life?  When did my prayer life become more about obedience and Love than utter and desperate need? Unfortunately, in my humanness, my obedience and my Love is fickle.  I would love to go back to that deep union, without going back to that extreme suffering.  All of which leaves me in this new season of loss and grieving, where the grieving isn’t all-consuming and yet can still creep in, attack and wage war.

It’s probably too soon to understand the fullness of what the Lord is trying to teach me in this latest siege, but certainly being armed and ready with my armor on is a message I have received loud and clear.  Prayer is my armor.  And lest I am tempted to take a break from the weight of it, my Holy Mother is always at the ready to dress me for battle again. 

Only in the absence of division is there true unity.  In prayer, like my knight in shining armor, Jesus rides into my heart once again, all-conquering, and unifies. He triumphs over my confusion and disunity when I call Him to me.  He unifies me in mind, body and soul, and all that is scattered for lack of Him.   

The peace and union that I long for cannot happen within a house divided.  Jesus alone must be the object of my every desire – heart, mind, and soul.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength.”  (Mark 12:30)

Related reading: The Desert

Take Heart!

Doesn’t it feel like Hell has unleashed its fury? I hear news from around the world and see so much devastation and suffering. In my own circles, the prayer requests are pouring in with frightening frequency. I don’t know about you, but I watch the news and simply wonder, “What next?” More than any other question, that one can be fear-inducing. Indeed, what next? Of course, I have already experienced the worst, personally. Or, have I?

As much as I love, I can lose before I will gain. That is a terrifying thought, but then the words from scripture come into my heart and never fail to bring comfort. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus makes this promise for our future, but He also wants us to have great Hope in this life. So, how does His overcoming the world benefit those suffering now, you might ask? It sounds so simple and trite to my own ears and yet it is the most profound truth of my life. We have HIM. We can love and be united to our friend and Savior. He is the way that we overcome the world and all our sufferings. His promises are not only for some unknown point in the future when we finally make it to heaven. His promise is for the here and now as well.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We must believe in Him. And we must Trust in Him. In the early hours of learning of Anna’s death, the terror and pain seemed to suck the air out of my lungs. In those moments, I didn’t exactly cry out to God, but rather barely let His name escape on a desperate exhale. It was all I could manage, and I’m not sure it was even a conscious thought, but I guess it was enough. He flew to me. He didn’t merely come, but flew and He gathered me in His arms and into His heart, and held me close and tight. I was utterly cocooned in the bosom of His love and care and protection – until I could breathe on my own again. Gradually, I regained my wits, and gently, when I was ready, He set me on my feet. He held on until I was steady, and with the most tender love and care He launched me back into life. I don’t declare, “Jesus I trust in You,” because of such great faith as many credit me. I declare it because of great proof.

God is alive! God is here! He is in the midst of all the suffering and He has overcome this world. He will take care of His children, even if it means literally scooping them up and blowing His life-breath back into their lungs so they can carry on. We will get Heaven when we get to Heaven, but until then we are commissioned to carry the light of the Heavenly Kingdom to all the corners of the Earth.

I have long pondered the faith of Abraham and Mary. They have both taught me a little of what it means to Trust in the Lord and are examples of the humility required to do it. Both Loved their God without proof. Abraham was told he would have an heir despite his advanced age and, though extremely unlikely, He put his trust in God and believed it, and was found righteous then and there. Because of Abraham’s Trust, the Lord was able to fulfill His every promise to him.
Mary’s story is the same unwavering example. She completely trusted God in the face of an extremely unlikely promise that would bring great personal cost. She Trusted and gave her fiat. She surrendered herself to the will of God with utter humility, not understanding with clarity, but simply accepting what God said He would do. Because of that, He could and He did.

Jesus said, take heart. Have courage. Be of good cheer. He has overcome the world and our troubles will be overcome, too. We have an extremely important part to play in that, however. We must allow Him to reign within us. We must say Yes. We must put Him before ourselves. If we truly say yes and trust Him to reign in our lives, then it matters not who is against us. What could we possibly have to fear? All the fury of Hell is no match for the great and mighty King of our lives and our eternity.

May we be bold for Christ in the coming year and bring His light into our own little corners of the world. Let us be instruments of His love and accomplish His holy and perfect will on Earth. May our Trials and our Joys equally be sources of Faith and lead us ever more deeply into trust, fiat, and surrender.

Happy New Year, my friends!

take_heart1