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)

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18 thoughts on “Three years and Treasures in Heaven

  1. The softness of sorrow, how it ripens and readies us for rebirth…Karen, ever since I’ve known your story there hasn’t been a day that has gone by literally that I haven’t thought of Anna, whom I never knew, and said a prayer for her and you and your family…because every time that my now 19 year old daughter, my only living child, walks out the door, I think of Anna and I say a prayer for them both because I know that it could be our last goodbye. But that is by no means morose. I do not live in fear, but with a deep sense of joy and gratitude for every moment… Your Anna gives us this gift…she is more full of life than she ever has been…and so are we because of her and the Savior who holds her so close to His Heart.

  2. Oh Karen, how beautiful. You are always such an inspiration. What a beautiful family you have, and the blessed little one will be fortunate indeed to be surrounded by such love. Know that all of you will be in my prayers tomorrow, as you remember in a special way, Anna’s passing into eternal life. God bless you always, and thanks and praise to Him for the wisdom He imparts to us through your words. xo

  3. God Bless you, Karen and your beautiful family both here and in heaven…many prayers for a healthy happy baby girl…I will continue to keep you all in my prayers. Thank you for your words of inspiration…

  4. Here’s to Anna and Mikey for all the lessons and graces which have been disseminated among many, as a result of their passing. And what a blessing to have come to know you and all your family members, including the two angels in heaven. Thank you Karen for sharing your heart-such a beautiful loving heart full of wisdom and true joy!!!
    Much love to all the Pullanos~

    Rita

  5. Your words are truly a inspiration I’ve never met you but my daughter Debbie Strott across the street has told me of your awesome courage Your faith is such a great example to all Hope to meet you one day.

  6. God bless you, Karen. I know it must be terribly hard, yet I think you will not be offended that I am grateful I can’t fully imagine it. I am grateful that your sorrows have cemented and formed your faith as much as your joys have. I have been thinking and getting misty over my Mom, who died four years ago – and yet I am consoled that I believe I have a very personal advocate in heaven. I hope you feel the intercession of the children you lost to this world and feel confident that they now cooperate with the Lord in preparing a place for you and your family.

    • Yes thank you Charlie! By their very passing they started preparing my place.l. That is truly a gift. (And I think Moms really do it in a special way 😊) All will be fulfilled and is being fulfilled even now – the body of Christ- by their presence- wipes my tears until my Lord will do it himself. God Bless you – you give me comfort!

  7. Oh Karen – thank you for highlighting this call: “The Mass is ended, go in peace to Love and serve the Lord.” With great joy in my heart over our treasures in heaven, I offer you a congratulations on the beautiful gift from God growing inside of you. Oh so loved!

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