Take My Yoke

This past weekend we heard one of my favorite Gospel passages:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:29-30)

There was a time, about eight years ago now, that I came to know this scripture intimately. It comforted me then, bringing me through a long dark hour, and reminds me still that my trust belongs to God.

So how exactly do we take Jesus’ yoke?   

When Mikey’s health was spiraling out of our control from a brain tumor, I turned to Jesus as I knew Him then. The situation was too big for me by far; my baby boy was dying. At the start, I cried out to Him, begging Him at any cost to heal my little one. I saw nothing beyond the deepest desire in my being to keep my sweet 3-year-old in my arms.  Jesus was always there, steady, solid, nurturing my hope, and yet, not making any promises about Michael’s health. He was answering so many of my prayers and giving me things I didn’t even know I needed, even if He couldn’t say yes to my one big request. Trust is not built in a relationship simply by receiving all that is asked for. Trust is built when one does all that one says he will do. God revealed himself in a million ways: through His word, in deed, and through His body, and what I came to know of Him was a depth of fidelity, honesty, capability, and love, that I had never known before. I turned to Him in every moment of need and He stayed close. He walked with me, day in and day out. When doctors were at a complete loss, Jesus wasn’t. As medicine continued to fail, my soul was nourished, refreshed, and full of Hope. One day He brought me to my Father; I will never forget those moments. We were flying away on a Make-a-Wish trip with our huge family, strollers, wheelchair, gear, and medicine, leaving behind all of our care and support team. Disease had become the familiar and we were embarking on a trip to the unfamiliar. I had some moments of terror as we were boarding that flight, understanding that we were leaving behind what little control we thought we had. Then we were up, up, and away, and as I looked out over the disappearing world below, to the vastness of the skies, I suddenly knew the awesomeness and Love of my Father. He created the skies, the earth, and all that is in it. All belongs to Him. We weren’t actually leaving anything behind that was out of our loving Father’s hands. That flight brought our little Michael to Mickey Mouse, but it brought me straight to the giant arms of Love, care, and protection. Jesus knew exactly what I needed. It’s not so scary to be little and helpless when you are cradled in Daddy’s lap. I knew I could trust Him even though He wasn’t promising that my own baby would be healed.

Only five short weeks after that trip, our beloved boy lay dying. I begged Jesus for the grace Mary had as she walked to Calvary.  He knew my desperate need and sent our Lady herself to be with me and comfort me. I really saw and understood Mary for the first time as we gathered around Michael in his final hours and there is no doubt that her grace abounded.  Peace descended upon the room as Mikey gave up his breath and we sought Heaven as never before.

Jesus knew our deepest need better than we did. 

How do we take Jesus’ yoke?  It’s really so simple.  We love Him. We seek to know Him until we can abandon ourselves in Trust, holding no piece of ourselves back.  We take His yoke when we can say that, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, “I belong to Him whom my heart loves.”

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Unconditional Love ❤️ 

I have a three-year-old who is quite mischievous. She keeps me on my toes all the time. Actually, who am I kidding? I can’t even keep up with all the places her little mind goes. At about the time I discover her first disaster of the day, she will usually do one of two things. She either runs and hides, hoping maybe she can blame it on the baby, or she fesses up and bravely decides to face the music. Perhaps her choice depends on the degree of frustration she hears in my bellow of O-LIV-EEEE-AAAH! I’m not sure. But, she’s a smart little whip, and in those moments that she decides to brave the consequences, she has learned how to diffuse my anger. She makes me look at her, right into those large green-brown eyes, and says, with the sweetest and most contrite-sounding voice, “You still love me though, right Mommy?” She already knows how to lay it on thick. In that moment, of course, my heart melts a little (just a very little!) and I love that I get the opportunity to teach her the very greatest truth that can be known. “Of course I love you, Olivia,” I say. This is followed by some version of, “I don’t like what you did and after you help clean up, you still have a consequence, but I always love you no matter what.” She just doesn’t know yet exactly how much my love will bear. Not even Olivia could withstand the power and the depth of that love for her if there were any human way to really express it. We are stuck with inadequate words and gestures that are feeble when compared to the true force of that purest love. It’s a love that sacrifices and has no conditions. And oh, is it ever patient. Real love transcends feelings and circumstances and is a thing in and of itself. I would gladly and easily lay down my life for this little imp.
The greatest truth we can ever know is that each and every one of us is Loved exactly that much and more. No matter who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, your Father in Heaven loves you to your depths. You can never do anything to lose it because it just IS.

I love the mornings in prayer, when I can find some silence to just sit with my Lord and greedily let Him fill me with that Love. I usually close my eyes and rest in His lap, safely in His embrace with no conditions placed. I tell Him how sorry I am for all the ways I have wronged him, even if they aren’t always apparent to me. Gently, He shows me. I usually have to tune out the voice of the enemy that would justify my actions and my sins, keeping me bound up by them. Of course, there are probably good reasons why I’ve done whatever I’ve done, but the One who loves me the best dispels it all with one glance. I promise to try and never do it again. And when I feel brave enough to look up at Him, He is always ready and willing to meet my gaze with gentle, unwavering compassion and Joy. In those moments, I have not a care in the world! I’ve done wrong. I will do wrong again. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from the Love of the one who’s counted each hair on my head. I’m the only one who can allow it, if I were to run and hide instead of boldly asking “Lord, you still love me right?” 
His response is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. No matter your sin, He would give His life for you and for me. Despite our sin, He did just that. 
Romans 5:8 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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.

The Final Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Holiday Coping Post

So many of you sent messages and wondered how we were handling the Holidays. We made it through our first Thanksgiving without Anna just fine. I’m so thankful for all of you who prayed for us and sent well wishes. The day went along as most every Thanksgiving has but for some reason facing the holidays after a loss is just hard.  I can’t put my finger on why exactly, there just seems to be a general feeling of dread and lack of motivation at best, to a desperate desire to run away, at worst.  And despite knowing and believing and understanding that this life is not our final destination, sometimes the sadness comes. And somehow the sadness and the grief have a work to do in us.  My very wise friend reminded me that Jesus and Mary knew grief intimately. In scripture Jesus weeps over the death of his friend Lazarus and of course Mary had many sorrows in her lifetime including the brutal beating and mocking and murdering of her child.  Grief has a purpose in our salvation and I know this is true even if I can’t say exactly what that purpose is.  It’s like the voice calling in my wilderness, “prepare the way for the Lord”. Grief has changed me.

But I also think grief has its place and sometimes needs to be kept in check. Advent, for example, should be a time of preparation and excitement for the birth of our savior. His birth is the beginning of the very reason we can overcome grief in the first place!  In grieving, as in most things in life, moderation is the order of the day.  Not only is it exhausting and draining but I’ve got living to do!

This isn’t my usual type of post but perhaps some of my experience can be useful to others this Christmas. Even if you are not working through your own loss maybe you know someone who is.  I know the process of grieving is different for everyone so I’m not suggesting one right or wrong way to do it – only seeking to share the strategies I try and use all the time. I often hear in grief advice that ‘you should be gentle with yourself’ at holiday time. Well I’m not even really sure what that means but I don’t find it to be helpful advice. If anything I think the opposite is more true. Being ‘gentle’ with myself would likely lead to a whole lot of wallowing in my own pain and pity. I find I have to be a little more stern with myself. I have to work, sometimes pretty hard, to choose living Joyfully. I’ve gotten the response from fellow grievers, “well I do try but it’s hard”.  Yes it’s hard but so is being run by your sadness. And there is a lot at stake if I can’t overcome it. The one thing I hope to teach my children is how to choose to live Joyfully despite difficult and sad circumstances.  I pray I can show them that example.  Joy is a choice we can make, through any kind of circumstance, because we know the Truth.  We should “always be prepared to give a reason for our Hope” and Jesus gives us His Joy so that our Joy may be complete. (Jn 15:11)  By His resurrection He has overcome the world and we are called to do the same. Heaven and eternity await so we can’t really afford to waste an undue amount of time on sadness. Not a single one of us is called to a life of grieving. Some of us have that cross to carry but we have to carry it forward through living to Joy and not stuck buried under the weight of it.

May your Christmas be filled with joy - (a sti...

 (Photo credit: mimitalks, married, under grace)

So here’s what I do

1) Focus on the present moment. This may be a little easier for me than others because with many small children in the house I am pretty busy. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have the luxury of letting my frame of mind interrupt my duties. My family needs to be fed and washed and dressed. The house needs to get cleaned etc. etc. Not only is it unfruitful to allow myself to dwell in the past but it is entirely unfair to my children that are here before me. I have a job and a vocation to carry out and God promised all I need to do it. I believe that. I rely on that.  And once the basics are taken care of there is always a long list of extras and holiday preparations that I can focus on. I Ask myself what I can do to live instead of grieve right this minute.

2) Take captive every thought.  Yes it is easy and natural to focus on what we did in Christmases past. I can’t help but remember the last time Mikey helped Daddy get the tree and that no one in our house was ever more excited for Christmas than Anna. These are normal thoughts and good memories. At another time of year they might bring a smile or peace but right now they bring a serious blanket of sadness down upon me. I will take those thoughts as they come and put them away for a later time. It is not easy to do! I rely on prayers and grace because it requires a conscious act of my will to take the memories captive and decide to not think about them and replace them with thoughts that are more productive and easier to bear right now. The focus and the goal are to prepare and make a nice Christmas for my family that is here with me.  So define your goal and deal with thoughts accordingly.

3) Power through and suck it up. There will be many things I do that I simply don’t want to. I will do them anyway. Most moms know when we are taking shortcuts and not doing the best job we can do with our kids or husbands or household and there are repercussions to that. I try and be as honest with myself as I can be and ask, “Will I feel better about doing this or not doing this?” Some things however are nonessential. For me this Christmas it looks like this: I will not feel the least bit bad if I skip making cookies. The kids are busy and won’t miss it enough that it will impact our tradition. Getting and decorating a tree however is non-negotiable. I will force myself to go through the motions of that even though I don’t want to at all. Not doing it would be sad for my kids but worse for me for having let them down.

4) Accept the change to my family. One of the most difficult things for me to do this year was take a family photo. The last thing I want to do is send a Christmas card without Anna in it. I had just gotten used to sending one without Michael and now everything in me rebels about sending one without Anna too! I want to send a card with all my children in the photo. I really really really do. It is a challenge to truly accept that my family is now different. Taking that photo was a good idea and a good exercise in accepting that my family is missing someone. It will always feel like that I think but I can accept it. Accepting it will make it easier going forward. They will never be out of our mind or our heart but the reality is they will never again be in our family photo. I don’t like it but I accept it.

5) Make a decision right now to not be sad. Be determined about it. You may be surprised about how well you are able to pull yourself out of your same old rut. I choose on this day, in this moment, to be happy. I don’t necessarily ‘feel’ like it but I will ‘fake it ’til I make it’ and have an amazingly better day than if I didn’t force a smile on my face. There is always something to laugh or smile about and it’s amazing how the outward expression can transform the inner feelings.

6) Count my blessings. I have so many things everyday that I am thankful for. By focusing on them and actually counting them – out loud – it leaves little room to lament my losses.

7) Praise God. I wrote a post about praising here and I want to tell you it is foolproof! Try it.  Play some Christian music that praises God and sing along and focus on the words and the God who holds the universe in the palm of his hand. He is holding you too. Praising Him is a gift that he gives us because it can change us from the inside out.

8) Do something new and different this year. My sister was feeling bad that she never decorated Anna’s door last Christmas as she had planned. She decided to do it this year for the other kids and they loved it. It felt great to do something different that was not connected to Christmas past or to Anna. We’ve made a brand new memory and hopefully a new tradition.

9) Do not be a victim or feel sorry for myself.  I am not defined by what I’ve lost but rather by what I’ve been given and who I am as a child of God. I will banish any thoughts of ‘whoa is me’ and ‘it’s not fair’. That gets me exactly nowhere. If those thoughts surface I immediately take them captive and count my blessings instead.

10) Practice being mentally strong.  I read this great article that went viral this past week. I realized there are many similarities with the strategies I use for grieving.

All of this being said, there is always a place to remember our loss and our loved one and to let grief do a work in us.  There will be times when there is so much sadness you can’t even look at this list. When that happens I pray for grace and ask Jesus to help me right where I am. “Lord help me to want to overcome this sadness right now.” If that doesn’t work I try asking, “Jesus, please help me to want to want to overcome this sadness”.

Finally I am usually heartened to remember that no matter what – if I allow God to work – I will only get better.

Breastfeeding and Pelicans

— 1 —

So this is my first ever quick takes Friday post!  I always enjoy reading these posts but have never had 7 relevant, entertaining and meaningful topics to post about all in the same week before.  And if I do it’s usually Wednesday by the time I write them.  So here I am.  With good stuff.  And it’s still Friday.  Yay!  Must be that Blue Moon this week (and it had me breaking out ‘The Smurfs’ for family movie night!)

— 2 —

So the news you’ve all been waiting for (unless we are friends on FB, Instagram, twitter or I have your email, phone # or you live in my neighborhood or you have children living in the 315 area code….) Drumroll please…. Our princess Olivia Grace Pullano arrived August 6, 2013, 8lbs 13oz.  She was and is beautiful and healthy and probably just as stubborn as her Mom Dad since she decided to stay put for an extra 9 days.  Nine. Daaaaaaays. Nine… But she is here safe and sound and there aren’t enough hours in the day to adequately Praise God for this little miracle! Yes she was a good size baby but she is still a tiny little nugget and our whole family is totally in love with her!  I think we many need a sign-up sheet with a 20-minute rule to cuddle her!

Don't you just love newborn papoose babies?!

Don’t you just love newborn papoose babies?!

— 3 —

And I don’t know if I can do this justice in writing but I thought I’d share with you our first moments home with Olivia.  So we arrived home to paparazzi and fanfare and barely contained crowds holding signs and cameras.  (My kids and a few hundred of their closest friends)  Olivia and I loved every minute of meeting her newest fans but her hunger won out and we had to pause to eat.  Spoiler alert: Somehow I did not adequately prepare my younger children for the natural and beautiful act of breastfeeding.  I got settled in a comfy chair and got Olivia all situated while a little crowd gathered around for the momentous occasion.  Without a second thought I lifted my shirt to nurse and happened to glance up at the faces of my youngest children.  Andrew (7) was a little bug-eyed and his mouth was open in protest, though no sound actually came from his mouth.  After a minute he frantically looked around and ran over to make sure I was completely covered up.  And I mean completely. So when I finally emerged from the blankets, my attention was drawn to horrified face #2, Laura (5).  (Really?? Have my kids never seen someone breast feed??)  She was just as stunned as Andrew but quickly found her voice.  She immediately and efficiently cupped her little hands around her mouth and went all through the crowds shouting “No one look at my Mom!!!  She’s feeding the baby from her boob!  No one look at my Mom!” Over. and Over. and Over. Relieved that the situation was firmly under control, I turned my attention to my sweet little Melissa (3) standing quietly by.  She had calmly taken in the entire scene but had just one question for me.  She leaned in close and whispered, “Mommy, do you have apple juice in there too?”

True Story

— 4 —

  Just one week after Olivia arrived, Bill and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  While the day was a little overshadowed by, well, breastfeeding, and everything else, the occasion was remarkably celebrated in our hearts.  Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the Man that coerced me into a few dates and quickly stole my heart.  I never could have imagined all that God had in store for our lives together.  Happy Anniversary Honey. What an honor it’s been to have you by my side!

— 5 —

This past week we marked 5 years since our little Michael went home to the Lord.  It hardly seems possible that it’s been that long.   I can still picture his sweet little face and hear him running to our room as soon as the sun was up and saying, “Mommy and Daddy!  Wake up.  It’s a beautiful day!”  He had the right of it.  We didn’t have a minute to waste with our beautiful boy.   It’s been a while since I’ve listened to his Song of Love but the minute I heard that music I was reminded how special that song was to Michael and all of us during his illness.  I am so grateful to that organization for bringing some Joy during a time that was not very joyful.  It always brought a smile to his face to hear his name in a song!   Here’s a link to Mikey’s song on YouTube that we put to pictures if you want to check it out!

— 6 —

   Of course Anna is never far from our thoughts and many days are so bittersweet.  Bill and I still say, “I just can’t believe Anna died”.  Sometimes I expect her to walk in the door from a long trip or something and the reality hits with fresh force.  She is not walking in the door.  She is not swiping her newest baby sibling from the cradle for late-night snuggles.  She is not joining in the back-to-school frenzy.  Her friends are all heading off to college this week and gathered one last time to say goodbye to Anna. IMG_3275Chinese lanterns made their way up and over the city of Syracuse.

6 months ago, I wondered how I would manage to get her ready for college with a brand new baby in tow.  I tried to imagine saying goodbye to our first-born baby as she embarked on a new chapter of her life. I tried to imagine our house without her.  I couldn’t imagine it but somehow I am now living it in a way I didn’t dream.  The words of scripture, and the mass, strike me for the 1000th time. “Free yourself from needless worry and anxiety” and from Luke’s gospel:

Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest.

As always, I am comforted by the truth of Anna’s reality.  What a waste my earlier worries turned out to be and the thing is that even if she were alive and well and heading off to college right now, my worries still would have been a waste!!  That verse goes on to instruct, “Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We are not promised longevity in this life. We aren’t promised an easy life, or luxury, or power or wealth or health, but each of us is here for a purpose.  We are part of the divine plan with work to do for the kingdom and we have a limited time to get it done. Our time might be gone in the blink of an eye.  I know it too well. I will ask myself today, and every day, “Lord, how can I serve you?  How can I Love You, my Treasure?”  and then I will pray for the Grace to do it!

— 7 —

And last, a friend recently told me something cool and since I had never heard of it thought you might not have either.  He was visiting a church in NJ which had an image of Jesus captioned “Jesus my Pelican”.  I had never heard Jesus referred to as a pelican before but it’s really a fitting comparison. “The symbolism of the mother pelican feeding her little baby pelicans is rooted in an ancient legend which preceded Christianity. The legend was that in time of famine, the mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. Another version of the legend was that the mother fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but in turn lost her own life.”  You can read the rest of the article here http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0682.html  Interesting!!

Happy Friday! For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

I am Thankful

Last weekend we attended our oldest daughter’s high school graduation.  It was a lovely celebration honoring the class of 2013.  Except for us, there was no graduate.  I didn’t have a camera at the ready or flowers to give or anyone to meet for photo ops afterward.  The classmate who was tragically killed in a car accident several months ago; that would have been, should have been, our girl walking across the stage.  She was remembered and honored and greatly missed by her entire class and it was all very moving as I tried desperately to keep the tears in check.

It was suggested to me, not for the first time in the last 5 years, that I could and should be angry.  I’m told that it would be okay to yell and scream and rail at the Universe and at God.  He’s a big God after all and can take it and will still love me despite it.  5 years ago we sat helplessly by our 4-year old son as a brain tumor and chemotherapy ravaged his little body.  For 9 months we watched him suffer and then die.

I had no anger then and I have no anger now.  I’m not saying the thought hasn’t entered my mind.  Saying good-bye to two of my children simply doesn’t seem fair.  I didn’t want to do it and I still don’t but here I am living this cross.  Anger might seem the logical solution and a very human one, but I can assure you that it only serves to compound the grief.  Anger only begets anger and self-righteous indignation that I’ve been wronged somehow and deserve retribution.  Anger is never from God and can bear no fruit from God. Our crosses surely can.  We were not promised fairness but we were promised the ultimate retribution – Eternity – where our tears will be turned into dancing.

The graduation ceremony was especially difficult because it was a celebration of earthly achievement and necessarily included a large degree of looking forward to the next big venture in the lives of these young adults.  We have no earthly thing left to look forward to for Anna.  All our hopes and dreams for our daughter have been fulfilled and for that I am so thankful, but in bearing the day-to-day grief and loss that is ours, it is so necessary to ‘take captive every thought’ and banish the what-ifs and ‘what should-have-beens’.  They are no longer reality and can serve no purpose, but still the thoughts come and it takes work to focus on what is before us and what is above us.  Being at the graduation forced us to focus on what was behind us already.  It was hard work to banish the bitter and angry thoughts and sense of total loss and unfairness and replace it with the sure and true knowledge that Anna did graduate.  She has already moved on in the ultimate way.   She has collected the scholarship, a full ride!  It took work to remind myself of all the reasons I am thankful.  It took work to recall the tremendous grace God gives me every single day.  I reminded myself that never do we hear of Mary being angry or speaking out in any way as she followed her son to his crucifixion.  She accepted and abided.  She trusted and surrendered.

And what about Jesus and all the human emotions that must have threatened to overwhelm Him in light of what He was facing?  We know in the garden that there was sorrow to the point of death but we have no idea if he battled anger or bitterness.  If He did He never gives it a voice.  He prayed and pleaded for mercy and grace. He acknowledged that His Father’s Will should reign supreme but He still had some hard work to do to overcome the cross that was before Him, ‘for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’.  He prays and pleads some more and sweats blood before he comes to the point of utter surrender, the point of being able to face what lies ahead and know the only way out will the be ugly, brutal and bloody way culminating in the ultimate surrender of His 33 years, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”  Sometimes we have to endure the garden and ‘watch and pray’ with Jesus.  That is how I spent the days leading up to the graduation, praying for the grace to not only endure but to effect good in my soul; the grace of total surrender.

I was given a glimpse of that grace on the night of Anna’s accident.  In the foggy distance of my sleep I heard the words no parent ever wants to hear, “Karen, Anna’s been in an accident with a bus and she is dying.”  As the angels were escorting our first-born child to the glory of her new home I went to my knees in my own Gethsemane.  “PLEASE Lord let this cup pass me by.” And “Mary I beg you to be with my child as you were with your own”, all the while knowing she has always belonged to God.   And in the most critical moments of her 18 years of life I could offer her nothing but my surrender.  Somehow that offering seemed liked the deepest and truest love I could give her, “Father into your hands I commend her spirit.”

I have no time to waste being angry with God and I refuse to indulge in it for even a moment.  I take it captive and beg and plead for mercy and grace when I need to and instead focus on all the reasons I am thankful. To do anything else is to deprive myself of all that God has in mind for my growth.  The only way to the end result is sometimes a slow and gentle pruning but sometimes it is a brutal and bloody road.

And don’t get me wrong, as a mother to many, and living in a world that sometimes feels like it’s gone mad, I’ve done my share of ‘table turning’.  This anger, however, is born from authentic love for the body of Christ and a desire to promote Truth, not the selfish emotion that only serves to promote my own pain.

I am thankful for the strong and faithful Man God has put beside me.  He answered that late night call, that is probably every parent’s worst nightmare, and has been solid and steady every second since that moment.

I am thankful that even as I begged and pleaded with God for my girl to be ok that He gave me the grace and the strength to surrender to His will and His plan for her.

I am thankful that my Mother Mary walked this road before me and now walks it beside me.

I am thankful that I was able to walk into the hospital and hold Anna’s lifeless hand and feel true and deep Joy for her.

I am thankful that we now know she died on impact and she did not suffer.

I am thankful that when disease ravaged our beautiful little boy, God restored him to perfect health and wholeness in Heaven.

I am thankful that in my weakest moments I have found strength by the power of Christ living in me.

I am thankful that nothing is wasted; not the pain, the sorrow or the difficult process of healing for my family.  God is using it all to mold us and shape us for His purposes and for our good.

I am thankful for the mass and the sacraments and our Lady and the rosary and the body of Christ and the tremendous wealth of resources of our Catholic faith.

I am thankful for the will and the grace to choose Truth over the lie, to choose Love over Anger

 DSC_2048I am thankful that the agony of the garden and the pain of the cross can never win and Life awaits us all.

At His feet

It’s such a happy and joyous time of year if you are a parent of a senior in High School. The culmination of years of planning and working and testing and playing and accomplishment is happening in many ways as the school year winds down.  The seniors are enjoying lots of festivities and award ceremonies leading up to Graduation and ultimately moving on to the next exciting phase of their lives.  Parents get to revel in successes, organize the celebrations, re-live the glory days of our own High School fun and generally take pride in our kids.  For our family the anticipation started last Fall with SAT’s and the first college acceptance and it was gradually building until a friday night 3 months ago.  On March 2, 2013, we had to abruptly change course with all of our plans when our daughter Anna was killed in a car accident.

We have changed courses and accepted what is before us but these days are still hard. Even as I celebrate and rejoice on behalf of all the other kids, my heart aches without my own.  It’s a strange place to be because I can’t say she should be here.  She shouldn’t obviously.  I can’t even say I wish she were here.  I would never wish her anywhere but exactly where she is.   I just miss her.  All these moments of celebration are moments that scream at me “you lost so much”.

And those are the moments that I am reminded of my place.  The place where Hope springs eternal and Love conquers death. The place of wisdom and truth where our beautiful Mother meets me in my pain and sorrow.  It is the place from which the whole of my life has purpose and meaning. I belong at the foot of the Cross, the only place where the joys of the world pale in comparison to the triumph of Eternity.  To sit at the feet of Jesus is to remember that I have not lost.  Truly I have gained.  Anna has gained.  Teach me your ways Lord.  Turn my tears into dancing.  At your feet, with your Mother, I will learn. This is the day You have made for me, by your cross and resurrection, so I will rejoice and be glad in it.

When I sit at His feet I am reminded of the reason for my Joy and it has little to do with Earthly celebrations and accomplishments. When I sit at His feet my purpose is renewed. Basic, elemental – I am His.  Mary is quietly by my side but her example speaks volumes.  I am here to do your will Lord.  I am here to live out your purpose for me come what may. I am here simply to receive all that you have poured out for me; Mercy, Love and Healing.

And it is easier here to remember that there is a time for every purpose under Heaven.

There is a time for rejoicing and celebration.

There is a time to sit at His feet.

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

Testimony:Cradle to Grave

Written by Anabelle, Age 37 in AL

From Cradle To Grave Catholic With Detours in Between

CradletoGrave

(That’s not me but my daughter. My photos are too orange to publish.)

I don’t have a memory of the most important day of my life.  But I know it happened because of acid-oranged photographs with my godparents, a Baptismal Certificate with my name on it, and no one tried to stop me when I received First Communion.  The seal of Catholicism was a cornerstone for my formative years, nurtured by a daily communicant mother who scuffed holes in her pants from kneeling pilgrimage-style across Church aisles; above-reproach principal who sang vibrating soprano-key for the daily 7:00 AM Mass; teachers who marched us to confession regularly; and a staunchly Catholic extended family with reunions that were marked by Baptisms, Church weddings, and funeral parties that always served garlic peanuts appetizers and roasted pig for the main course.  Being born into a predominantly Catholic country where public transportation was decked out with Jesus/Mary emblems and dangling rosaries on the rearview mirrors, was a support system that fostered my spiritual infancy and kept me on the straight and narrow.

Really I had all that I needed to grow in the fullness of my faith.  But my Catholic identity waned in a liberal Catholic law school when I reached the age of adulthood.  Oprah Winfrey’s ‘wisdom’, popular culture world views, new age novelty, immoral entertainment stole the truths that were deposited in my soul. I began to live in the prevalent narcissistic philosophy of ‘I/me/mine first” and accepted the whopping secular lie that in order to impress others, my spiritual life must be kept under the wraps of designer fashion and accessories.  I was the average dissenting/cafeteria/lukewarm Catholic.

On the brink of my graduation, the Year of the Holy Spirit, I unexpectedly pilgrimaged to Banneux, Belgium to an approved apparition site of Our Lady of the Poor.  There, I rambled on a litany of self-absorbed prayers:  help me pass the bar exam, marry a blue-eyed man, travel the world over, find the right shade of copper lipstick for my new dress etc…  But My Blessed Mother must have begged God for my conversion of heart because when the bar results were released, I was .02 % short of becoming a new lawyer.

There’s nothing like a dose of humility to make one see with clarity.  And the truth of what I saw was this:  I needed to ask God what He wanted from me instead of telling Him what I wanted Him to do for me.  The life that I’d built for me myself and I was shallow and unfulfilling.

With tail between my legs, I boxed up all of my leather purses and flirty perfumes and moved back home to recapture the peace of my childhood years.  I also kissed dating goodbye (thank you Joshua Harris!), joined a Charismatic prayer group that taught me about Jesus & the Bible, sought spiritual direction and re-discovered that a conscience living in a state of grace is where peace reigns.  This state of grace was the gift I received at Baptism, I could receive again at the Sacrament Confession. Being a cradle Catholic left it’s imprint in my soul that long before I was a student, lawyer, sister, friend, or any other label, I was a first and foremost a Catholic – a child of God and daughter of the Church.   That privilege was bestowed on me by faithful parents and the destiny to become a faithful Catholic woman was a path ingrained in me at Baptism.  I didn’t have to look to law school, to TV, to Oprah, new age or to the secular world, to find who I am and who I should be.   My identity was there in my faded photographs and Baptismal certificate.

The laws of Catholicism, the Sacraments, the devotions, and traditions drew me back into the Church started by Jesus Christ and this time, I was no longer a robot walking through rules and regulations.  I was in love with Jesus in the Eucharist, awed by a loving, forgiving God in the Confessional, captivated by the Blessed Mother and her rosary and longed to impress and become part of the communion of saints. Through the example of virtuous Catholics, I realized that being a lukewarm Catholic was worse than being a mediocre teacher/writer/lawyer/wife/mother/sister/friend and that in order to be the  best teacher/writer/lawyer/wife/mother/friend/sister, I had to become the best Catholic I could be.   I don’t mean a holier-than-thou-know-it-all but someone who stands firm in obedience to the Church Magisterium, who is willing to defend her from persecution, who prays for the conversion of my brothers and sisters, who strives for Mary’s sanctification and embraces Jesus’ Divine mercy when in sin.  A disciple of Christ who constantly studies the faith, repents, changes, inspires, corrects, evangelizes, and stays silent when necessary.

Hebrews 8:10 is the summary of my spiritual journey: “But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts.  I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

 Obviously, not me either.  It is sadly, my fifth baby.

Obviously, not me either. It is sadly, my fifth baby.

And wouldn’t you know it:  I DID eventually move across the world to sunny California, practiced immigration law with some travel perks, married the blue-eyed man of my prayers, and settled in a friendly Sothern state with peaceful cows and generous chickens as my neighbors.

Catechism and reading the saint’s writings have encouraged me to write novels, articles, and even blog about the Catholic faith I now hope to pass on to my children and take with me to the grave.

We cradle Catholics tend to take our faith for granted and look for answers elsewhere but in the Church, but if we really studied Holy Mother Church’s true teachings and seek God with a humble heart, we’ll find that everything we’ve searched for was right under our noses, poured over our foreheads, tucked under the Baptismal caps, and clothed on us in our Baptismal gowns.

Anabelle Hazard is a practicing Catholic, non-practicing lawyer, penniless novelist, happy homeschooler, and long-winded blogger at Written By the Finger of God