Tennis Courts

Suffering is Treasure

So, I have an AMAZING new job! It’s a job that I feel the Lord made just for me and He has been ‘making me’ for it, for years! I stand in awe of how perfect a fit it is for me and my family.  My skill set fills the job requirements exactly. And the best part? I work for a ministry here in Syracuse, so I literally am working for Jesus these days. How good is God?!?

The physical location of my office is in a rectory not far from my house, which happens to be right next door to the high school where Anna and Nichole went to school. In order to get to my office, I pull in the parking lot and drive down a long driveway with the building to my left and the high school tennis courts to my right. So, every time I go to work, embracing this wonderful new venture in my life, I am confronted with the all-too-familiar cross of old. My instinct is to move on and leave it behind in every way, which I so often do day-to-day. Who wants to live in pain, if you can escape it? But now it is there before me regularly and I can’t look away. The tennis courts. Oh how the antics and stories of Anna and tennis still have a life of their own for me!

One day recently the cross got heavy – too heavy and too insistent for me to happily smile through and walk on.  I had to bring Laura and Melissa into the high school for their dance rehearsal and suddenly all those days driving by the tennis courts with old feelings and memories surfacing, just bubbled up and boiled over. The pain of missing my girl was blinding.  But I knew it was for a purpose. I knew it would serve me and hopefully others. I remembered the Lord speaking to my heart about this time last year, as I was preparing to give a talk. “Your suffering is your treasure.” The problem wasn’t in walking into the school or driving by the tennis courts so often.  The problem was that I desired to happily walk on by and look only to the good, happy, and exciting things the Lord is doing. He’s continuously making all things new. He fills my heart with gladness and joy. I live in awe and wonder at His goodness all the time. He’s a good and generous Father desiring not only my good and my salvation, but even abundance and happiness in my life.

But none of those things would be as true for me, if I didn’t have this cross.  I could never see and appreciate the joy in the same way, if I had never walked the road to Calvary with Him and with Mary.  We simply don’t get the resurrection without first having the death.

So, I will walk through those days of pain, sadness, and burden, trusting my Daddy to fix it in His time and in His way. I will pray for Him to transform me for this present suffering, to make me worthy, to help me see and share the treasure.  After all, it’s an honor to share the cross with Him. And he showed me that I’m not afraid of this. In fact, I was made for this. And so are we all made specifically for the cross God has allowed in our life. I am being made for this because I love Him, and the more I love Him the easier it is to bear.  Somehow from the crippling moments, more joy is born. All the former good times, memories, accomplishments, and laughter that are now done and gone, are treasures of this Earth that He is helping me store up in Heaven, and Heavenly treasures don’t come cheap. In fact, they are priceless.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Mt 6:21

 

Advertisements

What has been lost

People often wonder if I’m angry about losing my children. I’ve written about this before (here), but in short, praise God that anger hasn’t been my struggle. It doesn’t mean that I never feel the emotion, but I’m generally able to keep it solidly in check. If there is one thing that has made me angry from time to time though, it’s the reality that our living children have all had to suffer so much in their young lives. 

I’ve cried out to the Lord and lamented to friends that it’s just not fair to them. They’ve lost so much and suffered greatly in many different ways as they grow up around these giant tragedies smack in the middle of their being.  So much has been stolen from them and if I let it that could really get me fired up!  And just to be clear, my anger is always directed at the enemy, the Father of lies and destruction and never at our loving Father. Satan comes only to kill and destroy and we live in this fallen world where sin and death run rampant.

Since Mikey’s death, I’ve just sort of accepted this fact and carried the hope within that all will be reconciled in the end. But still, the struggle of the day-to-day grief remains and the price has been heavy at times, especially for my innocent young children.  Anna always struggled with her little brother’s death. She locked up a whole lot of pain and grief and battled each day to overcome the sadness and heavy burden. As a mom, nothing hurts more than not being able to help your child. But I couldn’t fix it for her then, any more than I can fix it for the others now. 

But what if things aren’t exactly as they appear here? What if the enemy has actually stolen nothing? Here’s a truth I have come to know: There is no school like the school of suffering. The tragedies that my children have endured are what’s making them. They are being tested like gold in fire and how precious and valuable is the Gold that endures it? I can lament all day long that despite our best efforts and intentions, we weren’t able to give our kids the ideal carefree childhood that we both had. But I have only to think of the hope that carried Anna through her days to know with certainty that the Lord used every minute of her pain and struggle for her good. Mikey’s death was like a tether that kept her eyes turned toward heaven even as she lived a little while she was here. She had hope and trust that she would see him again and he was part of her living here, too. In a beautiful way, the Lord was using the pain and struggle to bring her closer to Himself. I’ve had so many consolations that in her final weeks He was wooing her, knowing her day and her hour were near, and if that’s true then the enemy has stolen precisely nothing. Joke’s on him. Despite death, hope remained and Heaven reigns.

The suffering for my little ones is big, no doubt about it. I never want to downplay it or make light if there are tangible and concrete ways to overcome their pain. It does have a way of seeping into the nooks and crannies and discoloring so much of life, but there’s more than meets the eye at work. I trust in that, even as we walk through the sometimes dark valley of these days laced with struggle and suffering. What would these young ones be like without the crosses they carry? I don’t believe the answer is that they would be better off. I really don’t. 

I loved my childhood. I feel so fortunate that I was blessed in all the ways that I was. But if I’m honest, the truth is that I didn’t really start living until I walked along the road to Calvary beside my Lord. What an honor and a privilege, and honestly, not very difficult at all compared to His walk. 

My children may not understand or see the good right now, but it doesn’t change the truth of it. The Lord is wooing them just as He did Anna and He has a plan for each of them; to give them a future and a hope and the enemy is always playing right into His hand.

To me, that is cause for celebration and rejoicing, not anger.

“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.” Ps 23:6

Ancestry

It seems like every fall I get the Ancestry bug. Inevitably a free trial offer or message containing new information draws me in and I get completely hooked before the reality and busyness of life kicks me in the rear and I snap out of it. I absolutely love the hunt, the find, and the puzzle of learning about my ancestors. Thinking about the people who have come before me, who have paved the way to my being here in this time and place, strikes my heart with awe and wonder. It affords me a perfect opportunity to step back and marvel at how God‘s design gives us the freedom to live, work, be, and do, and yet His plans and His designs are still carried out. And here I am, no accident of circumstance, but planned by my Creator. He made a space for me in the great big whole of His design and I have a very unique and specific purpose here, as we all do! In 100 years, I will be little more than a square on the giant family tree. Perhaps if you click my profile you will be able to piece together some of the details, but it won’t be until we are in heaven that we will see clearly and understand the fullness of the role each of us has played in history. I think that’s what drives me so much, knowing these relatives were so much more than I can learn from the records we have. And it’s not lost on me that I always seem to find myself immersed in genealogy research in the month of November, a time when we remember the saints already in heaven and pray for the holy souls in purgatory. And of course I do exactly that for the time I spend with each ancestor, and somehow I come away feeling a little more connected.

Last week, I spent some time researching my second great aunt and uncle, Philip and Olive. They had nine children and I immediately wanted to know more about them for obvious reasons. (I have 10!) I soon discovered how much we really did have in common as stories of all that they suffered were revealed. They lost their eighth child at almost one year old. Their seventh child died of breast cancer at age 45. Olive buried her husband just shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. A few years later she lost her 25-year-old grandson in a car accident. In her 90th year, she buried her fourth child in May and her fifth child in October. I can’t begin to imagine the joys and heartaches she endured in her 96 years here, but I know she must have been one tough lady. It’s daunting to think of all that she suffered knowing the suffering that is unseen was far greater than what is now seen in these records. My heart hurt for her as I tried to empathize, sympathize, and pray about all I was discovering. At one point, I wondered to myself how one woman could endure all that. Did she have faith in God Almighty and hope in heaven? How did she cope with losing children and a grandson without her husband by her side?

My thoughts turned to the more recent tragedy of the limo crash here in New York State that killed 20 people, most of them related or friends. Four sisters and their spouses or boyfriends died in that horrific accident. What about the parents of those sisters? How do they go on in the face of losing their children – all of them? When I originally heard the news of the story it rocked me to my core! In the midst of all my prayers for them, I had some moments of begging God to show me how they could go on and find Joy. He reminded me gently of how this goes; the same as is true for me, for those parents, for Olive and Philip. Truth with a capital T! Truth is how and the Truth has a face and a name – Jesus: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When we are stripped of everything is when we learn that the author, creator, and source of all remains, and we live because of Him! He is the true home we long for, even as we make our way here in this time and place we were made for, with all its joys and sufferings.

When I was a child, the thought of losing my parents scared me and I felt that if anything happened to them surely I would die. When I grew up a bit and got married, the thought of losing my husband terrified me. If he died, surely I would too. When we had children, the thought of losing any of them was enough to make me break out in a cold sweat. Certainly there is no way I could go on without them I thought. But when the very worst happened and Mikey died, I didn’t die. In fact, the surprising truth is that I discovered instead who I live for. When Anna died, this truth was reinforced more. I didn’t die at all (though some days the grief and pain were pretty unbearable), but I learned why I have Hope always.

Even now, the thought of losing another child terrifies me. I don’t know how I would survive it, but I know that I would. With Jesus. Were I to bury them all, the Truth would remain, and in light of that Truth, the affliction is momentary and light. It’s like when you are unexpectedly plunged into darkness. Perhaps someone came along and turned off all the lights without realizing you were in the room. You don’t just stay quiet and accept the darkness, right? Usually the reaction is to wait in expectation of the light. Maybe you call out and then you hope and trust that the light will return because you know it can and will. You wait and strain to find just a flicker or maybe you fumble through the darkness seeking the light on your own. You know you will find it and eventually there will be light, and hope lives.

What a great Joy, in the midst of my tragedies, my momentary darkness, to come to know the Light and Truth of Jesus. I know with certainty that He will carry me through every joy and every tragedy and every moment in between, straight into eternity. He alone is the Hope in any darkness.
I stand now firmly in that Truth, by the power of Christ and His cross, in the light of His glory and resurrection. There is nothing whatsoever to fear.

“ For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:17-18

 

 

 

The Question

I’ve been reflecting on something for a few years now. It’s one of the most difficult things to explain when asked and yet somehow it seems pretty simple. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it, but wanted to throw a few thoughts out there. The question is this: If God allows suffering, and we sure know he does, how are we supposed to be happy and full of Joy, and free, when more-often-than-not our suffering is a tremendous burden weighing us down? If God promises to wipe our tears and turn our sorrow to dancing, how does that help us now?

The scriptures are full of human suffering and people crying out to God. In the Old Testament, the people looked to God for real help in their distress and received His consolation before they truly understood the promise of Eternity. In the New Testament, Jesus himself reassures, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In the world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” He knows the exact struggle of living, the human condition as it were. And He provides Himself as the antidote. I find this beautiful and reassuring and uplifting. I call upon this verse often and remember Jesus doesn’t want me dwelling on my sorrows or trials because there is real work to be done. He is here. He is Alive. He is present. He reveals Himself in a thousand ways, most especially in His body living here with me. The church militant, slogging through the muck with me, who by simple acts of faith and love, reveal Jesus. Just as Jesus reveals the Father to us, so does the body of Christ reveal the Head. I know He will make good on every promise! Still though, those promises seem a long way off. Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain until then? We could certainly choose to live as if it were, but that’s not our only choice. There is happiness, freedom, and Joy despite suffering, and I believe His promise begins right here and now.

In a very basic way, my kids called this to mind the other day. They were grievously upset, devastated really, when we had plans to go to the church fish fry and at the last minute I had to cancel. They had been looking forward to it all week long, making plans with their friends who were also going. They had certain toys to bring and share and had arranged where they would sit and ‘hang out’. At ages 6 and 8, this was big on their social calendar. I would fill pages if I described the day that ultimately ruined our plans, but suffice it to say, I did not cancel lightly. They cried and moped and in their little world, they suffered. They were mad and couldn’t fully understand. They tried to bargain and beg and my heart broke at their disappointment. I couldn’t even stay home to distract them with fun and games, but what did I do? I promised them something fun to look forward to. I promised them that it would all be ok. I knew with the wisdom of an adult and a parent that they wouldn’t truly be harmed by not going to the fish fry and hoped it wouldn’t take any time at all to do something else fun and be distracted. Sure enough, by the time I got home they had built a massive fort and played for hours with seemingly no memory of their earlier disappointment.

Similarly, I think this is one of the ways Jesus meant we should become like children. With utter trust and love they believed and accepted my promise. They took my advice to do something different and had fun anyway. Not the same perhaps, but they were fine.

At the most basic level, Jesus would never let us suffer unless He knew we would be ‘fine’. He’s promised that it will be better than we could have hoped and in the meantime He’s given us so much to do!

I think of His earthly parting with Peter. He knew how devastating His loss would be to his disciples. He probably understood that their grief, fear, and uncertainty might paralyze them for a time. He knew all they would ultimately face in this world full of troubles and in the face of it all, He asked just one question, “Peter, do you love me?”, so simple that it took no thought at all to answer, “Yes Lord.” “Then feed my sheep”, Jesus said, knowing that He would be making all things new. Peter couldn’t have truly understood, but with the faith and trust of a child He declared his life for Jesus. Three years of coming to know Jesus meant a radical transformation that culminated in one simple question and answer.

So back to my question: Is it supposed to be a life of misery and pain? The people in the Old Testament did not buy into that and constantly looked to God as their refuge and hope. Jesus’ promises give me great Hope for my eternity, but if I’m simply waiting in agony for that time to come, then I think it’s fair to say I don’t really know Jesus at all. If I’m not letting Him transform me in a radical way by spending time with Him and getting to know Him, then how can He offer me consolation? Without the transformation, I miss the call inherent in all suffering. Only when he asks the question through the lens of my suffering does it have deep meaning. “Karen, do you love me”? I know the cost of the answer already and by His grace I give it without reservation. “Of course, I love you, Lord.” What else is there? I can wait for the promises of Heaven as long as you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life walking beside me right here and now.

“For the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to ‘springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Rev 7:17)

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. 🙂

 

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.”

Jesus I Trust in You

I’ve written here before about the death of our 4 year-old son Mikey almost 5 years ago.  Michael Julian PullanoHe was diagnosed with a brain tumor and battled his disease for 9 months before he died.  That journey, while being one that no parent ever wants to take, was responsible for so much fruit.  You can read more of my thoughts over the years on my caringbridge site. My faith and my writing have grown from that suffering and the continued carrying of the cross.  Though it never leaves our side we have gotten very used to carrying it.  We have found JOY despite sorrow and loss.  I can look at that sweet and beautiful face and know with certainty that his little life was precious and meaningful to God’s design and in the plan for my own salvation.  I can even go so far as to say I am thankful for having him, knowing him. loving him and losing him because God is faithful.  When He says He has plans to give us a future and a hope He is faithful.

Several weeks ago now, we once again got that dreaded phone call.  Every parent’s worst nightmare has become our newest living reality.  “Your daughter has been in an accident.” “She’s in critical condition.” “She was hit by a bus.” “She’s intubated for now.” “Mr. Pullano… Your daughter is dying.”

Anna Noelle Pullano January 27, 1995- March 2, 2013

Anna Noelle Pullano
January 27, 1995- March 2, 2013

Time is frozen in that moment and yet it steadily marches on as we adjust, adapt, re-define and accept.  We’ve been here before.  We’ve walked this road of pain, sorrow and grief and, ultimately, with God’s grace, this road of HOPE and FAITH.  We will walk it again because God has asked us to.

My understanding is so limited and so narrow.  I can’t begin to answer all the Why’s that are so much a part of our human nature.  Why us? again…  Why her?  Why do our other children have to bear this again?  It is so unfair.  As parents we do all in our power to protect our kids and keep them safe from harm and the evils of the world.  This is completely out of our hands.  Why Lord would you allow them to suffer so much?

And you are an all-powerful and amazing God.  As sure as I have 10 fingers and 10 toes, you could have intervened and prevented this tragedy for us.  Why Lord?  Why didn’t your angels keep her safe?  Why did you allow this in our lives when you so easily could have spared us?  You could have intervened and you didn’t.

You could have intervened but you didn’t.  

And that leaves only one thing to say.

Jesus I trust in You.

We will seek refuge and take comfort in the arms of God.  Where else could we possibly go?  We will answer as Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” (Jn 6:68) bearing in mind the words of Jesus, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

We will bear up and carry this newest cross.  How?  With God’s grace and with His love.  It is a love that is not from us but a divine love that bears all things.  It is love for God and the desire to do His Holy and perfect will that will bear this cross.  It was the same for Jesus, He came to do his Father’s will, and it wasn’t an easy road to walk.  The road to Calvary is never an easy road.

It is a road however that we can freely and humbly choose, even in circumstances that we would never ask for.  Had I known, I would have BEGGED my God for this cup to pass me by, but truly not my will but yours be done Father.  And armed with that Trust and Love, all a grace, we will freely choose to walk this road alongside our Lord.  We will not be felled by the enemy of despair and we will not be victims of darkness.  We will walk uprightly in the light, even though we may falter.

The sadness and the grief are sometimes overwhelming.  The future looms large with this enormous cross that we will never be out from under.  The presence and the weight will be constant companions this side of Heaven.  It is no different from so many crosses.  The death of any loved one or the decision of a rape victim to choose life for her child when that choice feels impossible.  The gay man or woman who chooses celibate love for their life in order to more fully live the Gospel.  People suffering with debilitating, life-long illnesses or chronic pain or mental disorders.  All are crosses that are not necessarily chosen but can be freely borne.  Why would we want to bear them?  The same reason Jesus wanted to bear his cross.  Love. Pure and simple.

But what about our happiness?  I thought you wanted me to be happy in my life God?  Giving me children and then taking them away doesn’t sound like the greatest recipe for happiness to me.  In fact the pain of it is blinding sometimes.  How can I ever be happy with that?  At moments I cry out with Jesus, “Father, Why have you forsaken me?”

English: Divine Mercy. Painting in Divine Merc...

And the answer comes, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise”

Jesus I trust in You

I want to know the extreme and heavenly love that bears a lifetime of days without my first-born baby girl and our first-born son.  I want to bear the fruit and know the Joy that can only be understood in light of the pain and the suffering.  We can’t truly know light without darkness.  What a thrilling discovery when we are in darkness to understand that the light dispels it perfectly and completely.

Do a good and perfect work in me Lord.  You are my potter and I am your clay.

Jesus I Trust in You

Cross of Joy

I sat down with Andrew to work on homework last night and as he started to put his name on the top of the paper he said, “Mom can you just write the letter ‘d’ for me?  I’m terrible at making ‘d’s’.” I said, “No way.  The fact that you aren’t good at making them is the very reason you need to do it yourself.  Only practice will make you good at them.”  So he practiced it a few dozen times, with me showing him how to make it better, until he felt more confident in his ability.

Many times the Lord deals with us in this same way.  We ask for our crosses and burdens to be alleviated because we know God loves us and could easily take the burden from our shoulders.  We are told to pray unceasingly (1 Thes. 5:17), and in faith ask “Father, if you are willing take this cup from me.” Lk. 22:42.  Yet so often we are met with seeming silence.  Is it because God knows that our crosses are important for our growth and learning?    By our crosses we learn to rely on God more fully.  Ideally, when we walk with the Lord through a trial we gain confidence and trust and realize a new strength.  By our sufferings we are shaped and formed and refined on our way to perfection, like gold that’s tested in fire.

“Their sufferings were minor compared with the blessings they will receive. God has tested them, like gold in a furnace, and found them worthy to be with him.” Wis 3:5

vbhd0117

And yes perfection is the goal!  We are created for it so we can rest easy in the assurance that God has a very good reason when He allows His children to bear their burdens. They will ultimately be for our good.  We are being groomed and refined.  We are being made worthy to share in the inheritance.

Jesus himself had to endure the cross before He was resurrected.   As true Christ followers we cannot expect an easier road.  Nor should we want one!  True love of Christ requires our desire to share in His suffering.  It is this desire that allows us as lovers of Jesus to offer our own sufferings and crosses to Him.

Growing up, I often heard the phrase “Offer it up” when I uttered complaint.  Of course it meant nothing to me outside the bounds of my own relationship with Jesus and only as I grew closer to the Lord could I begin to understand the merit of that statement.

Loving Christ turns suffering from a Cross to a Joy.

Just as I would desire to suffer in place of my child if I could, so I desire to offer to Jesus my sufferings for the salvation of souls.  I endure them gladly rather than lament and bemoan them if they can be used for His purposes and to the end of accomplishing His holy and divine will. Furthermore Jesus calls us to Love not only our friends but our enemies in this way.  To Love perfectly is to lay down your life for another.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  1 John 3:16

This is what Christ did for us.  From His perfect love he died for all, not just for those of us who love Him back.  He died for His enemies.  He suffered for people who hate Him.  WIth those who love Him, He established a covenant of Perfect Love, so that we could go forth and share that same Love, even with our enemies, because to love an enemy is to love Jesus.  It is never by the power of our own flesh that this is accomplished but by God’s Perfect Love given and received.

This is our call as true Christ followers.  Can we follow Him all the way to Calvary?  After all, only when we drink the cup Jesus drank will we be able to sit by His side in glory. (Mt. 10:37-38)

Suffering is a part of life that we simply must accept. What choice is there when suffering is everywhere?  But when we accept the perfect Love God has given us our Joy can come from bearing up under the weight of our sufferings.  We can and should take Joy in living this basic Christian witness.  Just as I wouldn’t have let Andrew struggle in frustration on his own, God would never ask us to endure something if He didn’t give us the equipment necessary to do it.  We are never alone or without His almighty hand of protection upon us. He helps us carry our burdens, making sure they are not too much for us to bear.  Ultimately we will be victorious and every struggle will be overcome.  What Joy we have in His promises!

What if Andrew hadn’t liked my response and chose a different reaction?  He could have had a little tantrum, thrown down his pencil, and said I just can’t write the letter ‘d’ and I don’t want to practice it.   He could have resisted and cried and turned it into a miserable homework experience.  Had he done that, his stubborn tantrum would have been the more difficult path to the same end – practicing until perfect.

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luckily for us God makes perfect.  Our efforts will always be humble and imperfect, but our effort is like the mustard seed. God can grow it into the tallest tree. Our willingness to suffer for the glory of God, whatever life throws at us, is precious in His sight.  He doesn’t expect us to do it perfectly, only to lean on Him and trust in His providence and remain Joyful as a christian.  He is patiently by our side encouraging as we enter the fire and He understands what we will some day understand for ourselves; that the only way out is through.  Jesus knew this in the garden as well and it was the cause of His agony.  He knew He must go through His passion and desperately didn’t want to but it was the only way to secure the joy and perfection of the Kingdom for all mankind.  He prayed the ultimate prayer, “Not my will but yours be done.”   That is the prayer we should pray unceasingly.

When God does not take our crosses from our life we can know with certainty and with Joy that “His will be done”.

There can be no greater honor.

I Work Out

“I’m sexy and I know it. I work out!” These lyrics by the oh-so-appropriately named (even if a little inappropriate) LMFAO are rolling around in my head. I got myself back to the gym this week, after a little workout sabbatical (read: been waaaay too busy for that)  so I think that now qualifies me as “working out”.  The’ sexy and I know it’ part- well -I’m laughing something off!  So that little voice in my head and the screaming button on my jeans guilted me into finding time for the gym.  And for the record I would just like to say that I have not missed going to the gym at all.  Really.  Not at all.  I don’t enjoy exercising in a forced and contrived environment, though I’ve done it out of necessity for years.

I went back full steam and did a class and some cardio and some weight training.  It was difficult because the whole time my mind was whirling with the lists and responsibilities just waiting….lurking in my mind.   But as I said, necessity drove me and I moved from machine to machine working each muscle group thoroughly. Despite the weight of duty calling and a slight boredom, I persevered knowing that I would be thankful later that I accomplished a worthy and healthy thing for myself.

Two days later I realized some of the fruit of that worthy and healthy thing…. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) to be precise.  Apparently it does require muscle use to move fingers on a keyboard.  Still I was proud of myself and willing to endure a little pain for the sake of the greater good.  Until the third day when I moved from tight and sore into full-out robot maneuvers because it just plain hurt too much to bend. Anything.  I vaguely remember crying out to the universe, “I take it back! I un-workout!”  There just isn’t enough healthy and good, and definitely not enough sexy, that could or should justify that pain and suffering!

The crosses we bear in our lives often feel similar, whether of our own making or not.  They are sometimes painful and heavy, sometimes tedious and aggravating and often we can’t really see the point even if we have a vague sense that somehow they are for our good.   How often do we cry out in distress to make it stop or change or go away or improve?  How often do we seem to get no response and see no change?  Or how often do we come through hardship the better and stronger for it?  In every case, God asks us to persevere and trust in Him because He knows exactly what the point is.

Simon de Vos - The Israelites after Crossing t...

Simon de Vos – The Israelites after Crossing the Red Sea – WGA25334 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can look at the example of the Israelites coming out of slavery.  They were in the desert waiting on the Lord for 40 years! They cried out and prayed and begged, and in spite of manna raining down from heaven to feed them daily, they ultimately failed to trust.  Moses went up Mt Sinai for 40 days and by the time he came back down God’s chosen people were worshipping idols. (Ex. 32) These were a people that had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground! They experienced miracles directly from God but how easily they gave up when the waiting didn’t seem to make sense.

We can ask, about the Israelites, and about our own lives, what is the point of the suffering God allows?   I certainly can’t pretend to have the answer to that profound question; who can know the mind of God after all?   But it is not difficult to look back at the Israelites on their way to Canaan and see where they might have gone wrong.  They certainly lost patience, and failed to obey and trust in God’s promise to lead them to the promised land. They questioned and tested God when they were hungry and thirsty (Ex 16-17).  The minute the going got tough they decided they had a better way.

What they missed was the point that our sufferings are an opportunity for purification.   They provide an opportunity to rely totally on our sovereign God and believe wholeheartedly that there is a point and a plan and that He is providing all the grace we need to be victorious for eternal rewards.

When we look at our crosses from this perspective they become easier to bear.  When we open our hearts to God in total trust and abandonment, He fills them with Grace to bear up in our circumstances.   He teaches not only the bearer of the cross but sometimes those who come into contact with another’s cross, how to trust and rely on Him in all circumstances.  He fills our hearts with Himself, thereby assuring us of victory.

My muscles are no longer screaming at me in killing pain.  I’m not even sure what was accomplished by those few little workouts, but somehow I know it was good and I’m glad that I have the first and most difficult week under my belt. Even if it’s on a very small scale, I am stronger and better off and more prepared to take on bigger and better workout challenges that will lead to a healthier and happier physical me!  Most importantly I’ve opened up an opportunity for myself to grow and to change.

If those Israelites had known then what we know now, if they had the knowledge of hindsight, imagine how obedient and full of Love for self and neighbor and how faithful in trusting and worshiping the one true God they would have been.

Wouldn’t they?

After all the land of milk and honey awaits.