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!

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Beyond the Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hope In ISIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging, Speaking, and Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Missing teeth Just in time for Kindergarden graduation

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

How about a few Pullano kid highlights?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

The Great Temptation

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

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

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

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

The answer is age-old.

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

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

And tried it on Jesus in the desert,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

LOOK UP!

Godversations:

Godversations is 2 years old today!

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

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

Originally posted on Godversations:

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

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

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

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Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if they get hurt?, I ask myself.

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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