A Holy Smackdown

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

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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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)