Love and Sacrifice

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

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Olivia Grace

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Leah Denise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

LOVE

A few things I love this St. Valentine’s day.

I love a day that is largely un-scheduled.  No pressure.  No schedule.  So Rare!

I love that I was able to comfort a friend, offer advice, share faith, play a little Catholic matchmaking, coordinate rides and schedules and make weekend plans all via text message while cleaning my kitchen and eating lunch in my pajamas.

I love that when I got home late with all the kids my husband turned the leftovers in the fridge into a gourmet meal served on pretty dishes.

I love how my baby snuggles into my chest and strokes my hair to fall asleep. And that once she goes to sleep she is down for the night, peaceful, satisfied, happy.

I love the nights when a hot soak in the tub is just what the doctor ordered and I’m free to soak away.

I love clean sheets on my bed and fresh laundry in the drawers.

I love breaking the news that school is closed to a sleepy-eyed little boy and his first reaction is to ask for a hug.

I love our simple family meals when the dining room table is full of noise and laughter.

I love the mornings when I’m the first one up and I can savor a few minutes of peace and prayer with a hot cup of tea.

I love that sending in napkins for the 2nd grade valentine party is an option.  That was easy!

I love garbage day.  It’s like a weekly purging leaving behind clean empty garbage cans throughout the house.

I love watching my 8th grader on the basketball court having fun and engaged in sport.  On the sidelines I love that her friends pause to come over and play my little ponies with my little girls and fight over holding the baby.

I love connecting with the families from one school to the next at events and sports.  Familiar faces and community.

I love the excitement of a Varsity sport and a sectional run.

I love that I can reach out in an instant to an entire community of love and support in the blogosphere and that friends I have never met in real life I consider some of my closest confidants.

I love that in this moment I am blessed. I am thankful.

I Love and am Loved

It’s baby week in the Pullano house!!

A quick bit of my rambling thoughts for today.  The level of anticipation and excitement and busy-ness is high around here as we wait for the arrival of our own royal highness!  I think we are all imagining cuddling and snuggling a new little baby in all her innocence and sweetness and the waiting is a true exercise in the virtue of patience!

For me, there are the usual doubts and fears about the enormous task that lies ahead.  Am I up to it?  How will I juggle it all?  Luckily I’ve been here a few times already and know from experience that of course it will work out and yes I will be up to it – what other choice is there?  There is Joy in the sure knowledge that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Which is not to say that it will all be a piece of cake. Of course having babies and raising a large family is full of struggles.  I don’t have many children because I love being sleepless for months and months or because I love donating my body for years at a time.  To be sure the effort and the sacrifice is great at times.  Many look at me and think I must be made of something superhuman in order to pull off having 9 children.

Indeed I am.  I am a daughter of God.  Simple but divine.  I possess the same superhuman quality we are all capable of possessing. In fact, it’s the very quality we are all created for, to Love.   Not by our own power but by God’s power can we experience that agape love that overrides all else.  It’s the kind of Love that says, yes I will give up myself for you.  And I can’t take much credit for knowing this.  I guess you could say I stumbled upon this truth when I said yes the first time to accepting Life.  Whatever the reasons or circumstances at the time God used my ‘yes’ to teach me something far more beautiful and wonderful and amazing than I ever knew existed.  He showed me that because of His Love, His divinity, His Holy Spirit living in me, I am superhuman.

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words, “Greater Love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)  Or for one’s children, or for one’s family, or for one’s God.

To be sure the list of complaints at 39 weeks pregnant for the 9th time is looooooong.  I’ll spare you. You’re welcome.

The sacrifice is great and I know all too well that it is only the beginning.  In fact, I really don’t know the extent of the sacrifice this little life will require of me.   Just as I didn’t know that when I was carrying my 5th child that his life would be so short  – or so fruitful.  I didn’t know when we had our very first child the sacrifice that would be required just 18 short years away.  I didn’t have any Simeon in the temple to predict that a sword would pierce my heart – twice.  We have no guarantees that this newest little life won’t require great sacrifice.  That’s not how it works.  We give ourselves up to Divine Love and Trust in God, come what may.  All the sacrifice day in and day out is part and parcel of Loving.  I bear it all gladly.  And it is like nothing really in light of what Jesus did for us on the cross.  It is the small everyday way I can participate with Him in the cross.

It is the supreme gift of my womanhood and humanity, to be full of life, creating with God, saying Yes and offering myself as a sacrifice in a physical way.  For this I was created and the gift of the opportunity is beyond compare.

I remember being in labor with our 7th child, while our little Michael was in the hospital next-door receiving chemo treatments.  It was gut wrenching to watch his sweet little innocent self suffer and endure that.  In some strange way I wanted to share in that suffering with him.  I really wanted to take it away from him of course but what could I do? Nothing. Except in my contraction-induced haze of pain I had the idea that if he could suffer then so could I.  So in some sort of effort to share in it with him I refused all manner of pain relief and by the power of Love delivered a healthy squalling 9lb 4oz baby girl (and continue to question my sanity to this day!)

It was the sentiment of the cross really.  It was the greatest Love that motivated me, silly as it may seem.  I suppose looking from the outside in someone might question the sanity of Jesus on the cross, walking willingly to give up His life.  But from the inside, wow does it make good sense!

Only by being both a receiver and a participant of that Love does it make all the sense in the world.

The past 9 months has been a time of physically giving my life for another.  The upcoming labor and delivery will not be a walk in the park but the suffering is just a glimpse of the cross.  The Love is the fullness of the cross.  I get to experience both.  Again.  What a gift.  What a Joy.

stay tuned….

Loving this New Year

I went to the doctor for an early sonogram a few weeks ago and the minute the tiny life in my womb appeared on the screen, with it’s heart furiously beating, I started to weep.  The awesome miracle before me just overwhelmed me to tears.  Life so powerful and so fragile confronted me and my angel Gabriel, in the form of modern technology, proclaimed “Behold, you shall bear a child!” The sonogram tech saw my reaction and said, 2013-01-05_18-28-13_259“Awwwwww, is this your first?”  I replied, “No, it’s the 9th little person I’ve been gifted with.”  (Her jaw hit the floor at that!) I think she was a little perplexed by my reaction though.  It should be no big deal after seeing it so many times right?  For her it’s become commonplace, old hat, “seen one little jelly bean on the screen, seen them all”, so she didn’t really ‘get’ me.

Perhaps my reaction could be attributed to pregnancy hormones.  Or perhaps the timing of Advent and preparing for the Christ child to come had something to do with it.  Or maybe it’s simply that Life is a brand new miraculous gift each time it is given and by the grace of God I haven’t been blinded to this beautiful truth like so much of society that would just as soon deny the truth before their very eyes; that Life is Life.

And now the Christ baby is here with us once again.  Truth and light and Love and LIFE have arrived anew.  The mother of all Truth and all light and all Love and all Life has once again brought this precious child into our midst in the most adorable and desirable way.  She gives us a tiny baby in all His innocent splendor; a tiny baby to love and cherish and hold and squeeze and smell.  I don’t think there is any smell in the world like the smell of a newborn baby.

Just thinking of the Holy Family isolated in their little corner of the world, rejoicing, adoring, bonding together over this precious baby from Heaven evokes feelings of love and

English: Holy Family, Mary, Joseph, and child ...

English: Holy Family, Mary, Joseph, and child Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

tenderness for those first days with our own babies.  Days that are nothing short of Holy and gazing upon that tiny new face always feels like we are gazing on the face of God Himself.  All the hopes and dreams and aspirations and the sheer curiosity of what this newest little member of the Kingdom will become are held deep in our hearts as we enjoy every tender moment of newness and innocence.

Love does not get more pure or more true.

The infant savior, Emanuel, has come to us in the purest and truest form of Love.  A newborn babe without adornment or pomp.  Life simply and powerfully present.  Life that draws the world to see it and want to participate in some way with it.  If the story ended right there it would be a pretty amazing story.  God has come among us in the humblest way, naked and squalling and helpless with no expectation or pretense.  He came as all babies come, to love and be loved.

Too soon the world will come knocking.  Wise men will seek and will find Him.  The poor and the lowly shepherds will be given a first glimpse.  Enemies will be out for blood.  And the savior will be suckling at His mother’s breast, safely ensconced in her heart and in her arms, blissfully unaware of all that is going on around Him, simply doing what He came to do.  Loving and being loved.

This is all that God asks of any of us.  To become like little children.  To Love purely without pretense or agenda.  To be lovable as a newborn.  To look at one another as God sees us, worthy and precious and a miraculous gift.

As we embrace this perfect baby and continue on our Journey with the Holy Family, may we never lose sight of the simplest and purest Truth.  Love was born and Love remains.

Wishing you a Happy and Blessed 2013

Wedded Bliss

A Tribute to our marriage on the occasion of our 18th wedding anniversary

Wedding Day August 13, 1994

As a wedding gift, almost 2 decades ago, my cousin gave us a framed quote that said “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.   As a brand new married couple, full of giddy excitement about embarking on life together, this sentiment didn’t exactly inspire warm fuzzies.  I wanted to do nothing more than gaze at my new husband!  As the years have gone by I have appreciated the wisdom of the sentiment more and more.  Life has come at us, faster than we could foresee at times, and we have been well served standing side-by-side, together, united and bonded by vows we have both understood to be unbreakable.

I’ve learned an awful lot in the last 18 years as I’ve grown in faith.  Coming into marriage from a worldly perspective and not truly a Godly one, I would have been shocked to know all that I’ve since learned.

When we started out, full of joy and promise, the cynical sentiment of the world bombarded us; “The honeymoon will be over soon”, “Good luck but most marriages end in divorce”, ”It will never last,” and on and on.  There have indeed been times that those evil thoughts found a voice in my head.  What I have learned, however, is that our marriage is between three people and not just two.  Having God in our hearts and in our midst has been like having our own personal mediator, loving us both unconditionally, giving us an example and wanting nothing more for us than to learn, grow and succeed in our marriage together.

I wish the world had told me that God’s plan for marriage was never that the honeymoon would last forever and life would be easy because of our great Love.  Rather, God’s divine plan for marriage is that we become saints by learning, over time, experience, hardship and joy, the real meaning of Love.  Love is sacrifice and selfless and giving as much as it is joy and pleasure.  Marriage is a vocation in which we learn to serve others as Jesus served in His vocation on Earth.   As such, it is not about our feelings in any given situation but striving to live God’s will for our lives and accepting the grace He gives us to do it with Joy.

I wish the world had given me the message that children are truly a gift and a miracle from God, instead of merely a burden and an expense.  Accepting them, while not always easy, has taught my heart to be selfless in whole new ways.  If we had known at the start that we would be blessed with 8 of them we both might have run the other way but strangely, by accepting the overwhelming, and at times daunting call, it has taught us both to Trust in God and His providence on a level that drives out any fear.   It has given us the privilege to work for His kingdom in a special way – the way Mary did.  We have participated with God in His creation – what a privilege to sacrifice and surrender for His sake!  I will never say that it’s been an easy job but I will say, with certainty and awe and thanksgiving, that we’ve been given all that we need to carry out our God-given mission, not the least of which is Holy Mother Church and the intercession of all the angels and saints in Heaven.  The world did say that it takes a village to raise a child but I doubt it was referring to the Church or the Heavenly village that surrounds us always!  “As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be”.  I wish I had known that comfort and Joy the way I know it now.

Jesus came to preach repentance and forgiveness and the world crucified Him. In any vocation we are called to die to self for the sake of others and especially in marriage.  There is a constant and daily need to forgive and be forgiven and I don’t need a biblical scholar to explain that seventy times seven actually equals infinity!  For every unintended slight, selfish motivation, disordered priority, unnecessary burden, or the less-than-loving words I have spoken, I am sorry. For all the times I don’t even realize my offense, I ask forgiveness and by the power and grace of God, I offer the same.   I am sorry.  I forgive.   I ask for God’s healing of every little thing and big thing and thank Him for being faithful and working in every situation.  I wish the world had told me that Peace and Joy could be had through the gentle power of this humility.

The world had me believe that I was entitled to intimacy and physical fulfillment at any and all times in our marriage.  The truth, that the church has always taught, is that intimacy involves far more than what goes on behind closed doors.  Intimacy encompasses all the moments of life together that are shared between the three of us alone.  It is not at all what the world would have one believe about the pleasure-seeking ideal and selfish entitlement mentality.  Sometimes we need to wash one another’s feet as Jesus did in intimate and humble service to His apostles.  He humbled himself to foster love and communion and we are called to do no less.  It is not always the most glamorous side of marriage but perhaps one of the most beautiful, to do for one another what no one else would!

God calls all of his children to live chastely and surprisingly this sometimes applies to married couples as well.  His divine plan did not include contraceptives but rather the virtues of self-control and self-denial at times according to the prayerful discernment of His will in a marriage.  The world could never understand this wisdom because it doesn’t give it a chance and married couples are caught in the trap of societal norms trumping the wisdom and divine beauty of the Truth God intended for them.  I wish I had known of the beauty and wisdom of the plan instead of the years of anxiety caught between lies and truth.

The world did not tell me, but by the Grace of God I have learned, that the Bliss of being married lies not in the satisfaction of every whim and desire or living up to worldly sentiments of love and happiness, but rather it comes from serving the Kingdom together in our daily lives.  Gazing at one another is nice at times but won’t get us very far in the race.  It is in looking outward together that we can see and strive for the finish line.

So to the Man I love, respect and adore, thank you for sticking with me through thick and thin (more thick than thin!), through good times and bad, for better and for the very worst.

Thank you for being a man after God’s own heart.

May we fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith until the very end!