Love and Sacrifice

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

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Olivia Grace

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Leah Denise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Resurrection Story

I have a beautiful story to share.  As our beloved Saint John Paul II once said, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.” This personal story, written by my daughter Nichole, is the sweetest testimony to the healing power of Love and Prayer that this mother’s heart has ever heard.  I think the truest form of human suffering is born when we don’t know who we are as children of God – Beloved.  Only from this deep knowing of Love itself do we find Joy, and by its stripes we are healed. If you have ever said a prayer for our family, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

Nichole Pullano
Personal Essay

Bottom Of The Wine Bottle

Life isn’t fair, and what’s even more unfair than life, is death.
So, there I was, only capable of existing. I sat back down in the waiting room of the hospital. We had been here for almost 8 hours now and I still had two more doctors to see. The room was kind of spinning and my eyes had grown heavy. They took my shoes so I didn’t have the option of using them to hurt myself. I looked around at the rest of the troubled people in the room. I was not like them, not at all, and yet here I was, sitting in the same waiting room as them. I had been to the hospital many times, but never like this and rarely ever for myself. The entire day was a blur and I still couldn’t seem to fathom what was real. By this point, I could feel nothing. I thought I was nothing, completely consumed by emptiness. The past few months had been spent constantly drinking myself into oblivion, somehow ending up stumbling through the same memories, and then watching the same crimson color fall from my skin. I had so many questions, most of which could never be answered. I was dark and lost, but I existed.
The smell of the room was familiar and distinct. It brought me back to when I used to visit the hospital every day. I lost most of my innocence when my three year old brother, Michael, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. We spent most of our time in his little hospital room, playing puzzles and reading stories with our other seven siblings. It seemed too quickly that his time ran out. After watching him fight for eight hard months, he lost his battle. And that was it; the beginning of the end of me had begun.
My parents sat with me in the waiting room, praying, hoping, and wishing for my healing. My poor parents. I couldn’t bear that I was putting them through more than what they were already dealing with, but I needed them. They are the only people that I will ever need. Ever. I was and am thankful to have them. They reminded me all the time that I was not alone in my struggles, that I didn’t have to simply just exist. They were always encouraging me to talk about anything and everything. They didn’t want me to feel how my older sister, Anna, had felt. Something about my brother’s death never truly left her, and she had the toughest time with it. I found that the way she talked about his death, was exactly how I was now talking about hers.
Anna was part of my everyday life; I knew not one day without her. Being only one year older than me, she was the one person that I had with me through everything; the closest thing I had to myself. Losing her was never an option. What frustrated me most though, was how unprepared I was. When I answered my phone that night, waiting on the update of the accident, I wasn’t ready. When I sat there beside her beautiful lifeless body, letting my tears fall to her, hoping she was catching them somewhere, I wasn’t ready. When I watched everyone I loved surround my family and her casket with their pained eyes and wet faces, I wasn’t ready. Looking through her clothes and other possessions and suddenly calling them all mine, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to face life without her, and I will never be ready. But that’s the thing about death; no one asks if you’re ready and nothing prepares you. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it happens. And it happened, and she was really gone and she wasn’t coming back. Sitting in that hospital room, wondering what I was going to do now, I knew that I wasn’t either.
The events leading up to my breaking point seemed unreal. I had no idea how I ended up where I was that day. It had been about a year since I’d lost my sister. Two weeks prior to my ultimate breakdown, I didn’t think it would be possible to lose anyone else I loved. I didn’t think I would be able to do it again, and I was right. When they called me to tell me it was true, I felt myself completely shut down. This was really happening again; I was really losing another piece of me and, once again, I didn’t get to say goodbye. I couldn’t comprehend why I was losing so many people that were close to me. Now, a widely-loved and hilarious friend of mine with whom I had grown close over the years, had joined the angels standing and waiting for me. Reed was someone I connected with, a rare connection that you wouldn’t come by often. He thought the world of me and he never let me forget it. I was confused, I was devastated, and somehow it seemed to get worse.
Since Anna’s death, I had become a popular figure in the media regarding death and my community. When someone passed, I was often quoted and questioned because I was ‘already a story.’ Upon hearing about another death at my high school, reporters were quick to begin writing an article, but this one was featuring solely me and Reed. It came out only a few days after his death and was my ultimate downfall. The article angered and offended many. Now, I was not only the girl that seemed to be cursed with death, but I was also the girl that used these deaths as a means of receiving attention. It was all about me all the time, they said. I had made many enemies with words that weren’t even my own. Most of my friends wouldn’t even look up at me in the halls; I didn’t talk to anyone. I began barely even existing. I was always dizzy and cold, drowning in my clothes and in my sadness. It was so unbearably difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. I was slowly and completely self-destructing. The weight of this burden was only getting heavier, and I was only getting weaker. I tried not to succumb. I tried to do it all by myself. I tried, but I couldn’t.
I had been holding on for years, upholding my reputation as the strong one. They were always watching me, a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Nothing was a secret; everyone knew, but they didn’t understand. No one lost what I had lost. I had grown to be so extremely weak. I had let myself exist for all those who could not. I didn’t think it would get better. Then I surrendered. That day, I found myself stumbling into a classroom, letting one of my teachers catch me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew I was done. I had completely given up. I was sobbing and shaking and uttering complete nonsense. I somehow found the words to express how I didn’t think I could exist anymore. I finally said things out loud that I had never before. I wanted nothing to do with this war of a life I had been given. The only thing keeping me here was what I had left of my family and that was my reality. So, my parents cried for me, and my teachers cried for me, and the few friends I had left cried for me. I had finally fallen. That’s how I ended up shoeless in a hospital room with the two people who would do anything to rid me of all pain. For weeks, it was nothing but doctors, medications, appointments, priests, check-ups, high points, and low points. I was finally on the road to recovery.
I think about these events every day, and how I’ve grown to think and act differently. Nothing ever returned to the way it was before. Michael, Anna, and Reed were all a part of me, parts I will always wish I could have back. When they died, these parts of me died too. It was a long and never-ending journey to find myself again. But what I found was that I was actually long gone. I am a completely different person and it took a lot of growing up to accept that I couldn’t return to my old life; I had to build a new one, always keeping in mind what I had learned.
These experiences have taught me so much about what I value and who I’ve grown to be. I’ve learned that one of the most precious gifts ever given is time. You aren’t always given much of it and it eventually runs out. I’ve learned that the smallest things can become the biggest things and it’s too easy to take them for granted. I have experienced real, genuine heartache, pain that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. But I learned that I don’t have to face it alone; it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to be weak sometimes. I realized that death, pain, and sadness do not have to consume me, peoples’ opinions about me do not have to define me, and what is out of my control does not have to ruin me. It is a choice. I know that this burden will always be there, and it will never get lighter, but every day I get a little bit stronger and a little more resilient. The day I truly accepted the unfairness of life, especially my own, was the day that I stopped existing and started living. Since then, I have learned to be happy and to appreciate what I have in front of me, praying every day that I can continue to find the good in all bad situations. I will always carry my memories with me, never forgetting where I’ve been and how I’ve felt, but I have grown. Today I am strong and whole as ever, knowing that I have the greatest souls above me and living on through me, and with them I am never alone.

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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. 🙂

 

Fear

When our son Michael was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, my God, was I afraid!  I had fear, pure and raw, of the unknown, that my little boy had just lost his childhood and that he might lose his life.  I was terrified.  We didn’t know what was in store for him, but what we wanted was for him to be cured and resume being a 3 year-old boy.  He did indeed lose his childhood and he did lose his life, but as we went through his treatment I came to a point of acceptance where the fear was no longer in control.  It didn’t happen until a few weeks before he died (at the age of 4), but thankfully it did happen.  Trust me, it wasn’t something I had wanted to face at all.  We were perfectly fine and happy doing our thing, taking care of our family, and living life, when suddenly and unexpectedly the rug was pulled out from under us. Then, over the course of his illness, there was a gradual transformation from living solely for this life, to having Hope in the next one.

Imagine having a bone reset.  You think your broken leg is healing fine since it looks okay and seems to be working for the moment, and then the Doctor tells you that it doesn’t actually work properly and he has to break it again to put it in proper alignment.  I would definitely be afraid of that!  I would probably balk and look for any possible alternative, too.  Ouch!  Ultimately though, despite the fear, I would of course want to do what was best for my limb and for my life.  I would endure, and when it was all over, I would move on with life and put that painful experience behind me.  Except that every time I used that leg I would remember and probably be thankful that it is in proper working order and allowing me to run and walk and live the way I want.  Maybe using it would be sweeter for having gone through such an experience, but certainly there would be peace about choosing pain for the ultimate good.

Shortly before Michael died, my fear was replaced with a tremendous peace. It was a peace that surpasses all understanding because I had not yet grasped that it was for the ultimate good.

 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Ph 4:7)

Truly, this is what happened for me.  It was beyond my ability to understand or reason; it just overcame me.  My trust and faith were totally in God, not medicine, or doctors, or any treatments of this world, and God guarded me.

Still, after Michael died, when people would ask me how I was surviving that loss, I really didn’t know.  They could not imagine such a thing, and as it was for them, for me, the thought of losing any of my other children was terrifying and unspeakable.  Even though I had gone through it and am still ‘going through it,’ I could never have imagined facing that fear again.  I had put my trust in God, and was rewarded with Peace and Joy from deep within; He was helping me Trust Him more in every other area of my life, so there was plenty of “fruit.”  Surely He would never ask me to face the unthinkable — again.

And then the unthinkable happened again… Losing Anna was terrible, but something amazing has happened. Where I had been an utter slave to fear, God has now freed me. Where my trust had been mostly in Him, it is now solely in Him.  By allowing Anna’s death, He has allowed me the opportunity to see and understand what Trusting Him truly means.  If I had to lose another child, or every single one of them, I trust in Jesus.  When I am asked now how I can go through such losses, I no longer wonder the same thing.  I no longer fear that it would be unbearable.  God will guard me no matter what life brings.  I know that.  I know that.  It’s liberating.  Death has truly lost its sting.

 “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)

I didn’t get that before, but I get it now.  God did not just help me through two especially difficult and tragic deaths.  He helped me to know Him so intimately that death has no hold of fear over me.  What we think of as death and loss, I now think of as gain and hope.

It’s kind of like the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching a man to fish.  He didn’t accomplish this work in me completely from losing my sweet little Mikey.  That little boy so precious to me, like all of my children, a piece of my heart and soul, was ripped out of my grasp and I was forced to experience detachment.  Losing Anna has forced me to more fully understand detachment.  As I trust more deeply in Christ and Love Him more fully, my earthly self is elevated to Heavenly Joys.  It’s the strange and difficult call we have as Christians to be in this world,  but not of this world.  We are called to love and to love deeply and yet be detached from it all.  I think that Loving is precisely how we learn to be detached.  It is Perfect Love that accomplishes this; the Love of God that comes in, and through, and with Christ.  When we truly have Christ, everything else pales in comparison.  The things of this world fade away.

I can tell myself all day long that my children have never belonged to me.  That is a bit of a comfort and of course very true, but I think that it is in loving them selflessly and truly that the balance is found.  I want for them Eternity.  Simple.  I want them to be in Eternity with their God, more than I want them to be here with me.  I love them that much.  I love God that much.  Yet I know that my love is very far from perfect. I pray constantly to love more and to love better.

 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 Jn 4:18)

This doesn’t mean that nothing scares me or hurts me.  It does hurt to face days without my children here, but that doesn’t mean that I want them back.  I have to keep myself in check all the time when my kids walk out my door.

What if they get hurt?, I ask myself.

Well, what if they do?  I trust in Jesus.

What if they get assaulted? Or taken? Or in another accident?  I sure don’t want that to happen, and will do everything I can to avoid or prevent it, but ultimately I trust in Jesus.  I trust wholeheartedly and completely that if God were to allow any of these things, it is for a sure and certain purpose with the ultimate goal of eternity.  I love Him enough to Trust Him with my children.

No one wants difficult circumstances or hardships in life.  No one wants that bone to be re-broken.  I think that’s very human.  We seek pleasures and comforts when, very often, it is sacrifice and difficulties that are good for us.  Picture the image of Mary standing before the cross — silently.  Didn’t she want to cry out?  Or beg, plead, and scream?  Imagine her pain at seeing her son tortured.  Instead she was silent and accepted the cross — the literal cross happening before her very eyes — of her own son.  There is wisdom there.  Lent is a beautiful time in our church calendar to practice this.  Practice being uncomfortable and sacrificing.  Our crosses are good for us.

Christ-followers know and understand that the way to Hope and Joy and Love, and Happiness and Fulfillment and All that we truly Seek, is the way of the cross.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)

It’s baby week in the Pullano house!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stay tuned….

Loving this New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love does not get more pure or more true.

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a Happy and Blessed 2013

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

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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.

Mary

Andrew and I were saying prayers together the other night and had the following conversation (He’s 6 so we NEVER get through prayers without a million questions!)

ME:  Let’s ask our Blessed Mother to pray for all the orphans all over the world and wrap them in her loving Mother’s heart.

ANDREW: Why can’t we just ask God to do that?  He is more powerful.

ME :  Of course we ask God to take care of the orphans, all the time!  And God is the most powerful, but Mary has a special kind of power.

ANDREW:  What powers does Mary have?  Can she blind the devil?

(insert 10 minutes of questions about fighting the devil here)

ME:  Mary has a different kind of power.  Her power comes from Her love and compassion as a mother.  And the things that are important to her might become a little more important to Jesus!

ANDREW:  Well Dad is more powerful than you Mom. (out of the mouths of babes! Haha)

ME: Yes Dad has one kind of power and I have another.  When you want something do you only ask your Dad?  Do you wish you only had a Dad and not a mother?

ANDREW: NO WAY! I do ask you a lot.

ME:  Why do you ask me if Dad has all the power?

ANDREW:  You always want to say Yes and sometimes you can make Dad say Yes.   And you do give me hugs all the time.  You are my Mommy and I love you! (at this point prayers ended and tackling and hugs ensued)

Andrew came to the point of acknowledging, though he can’t quite put the reasoning behind it, that his mother is a treasure, one he would never want to live without. Furthermore, he has a fundamental understanding that He needs me.

In the same way our Mother Mary in Heaven is a gift and treasure to us and we need her.

When Jesus told John from the cross, “Behold, your mother”, he was speaking to every human being.  We are all commanded to Behold her as Mother.  When He commanded her, “Woman, behold your son” he was commissioning her to take each one of us into her heart. (John 19:26-27)  After Jesus was stripped, and mocked and humbled and tortured and nailed to the cross; at a point before death when He had nothing left to give, He did give us one final gift.  He gave us Mary.

And did you catch the part at the end of our conversation when Andrew said, “sometimes you can make Dad say yes”??  In the great wisdom of a 6-yr-old, he recognized that I have some sway and some pull.  When his Dad might otherwise say no, sometimes I can persuade him to see it a different way.  The same thing is VERY true of God!  Why else would he allow us to participate with Him in his ministry by praying?   Why else would we think our prayers hold any power?  Our free will, whether used for good or evil, necessitates that our choices have consequences, good or evil.  He hears our prayers and allows us the grace and the gift of answering as we ask according to His divine will.  How much more does He grant graces to His humble servant Mary, the very same one He chose to deliver Jesus to the world and the very same one He gave to the world as mother?  The very woman who reigns in Heaven as a Queen.

English: Icon of the wedding at Cana

English: Icon of the wedding at Cana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The wedding feast at Cana is a perfect example of this.  Jesus wasn’t concerned with the guests having enough wine.  He must have known the family was upset or would be embarrassed, yet He doesn’t act until His mother brings it to His attention and asks Him to do something .  She knew He could and would and that it was no small thing she was asking of her son.  At her request he performs His very first miracle, thereby prematurely launching His public ministry.  A son may do such a thing for His dearly beloved mother but would he necessarily go to the same great lengths for his child?

How many times would your mother have to ask you for a favor before you would oblige?  And to what lengths would you go to make it happen?  Mother’s are afforded the unique ability to ask things of their children and any commandment fearing child will “Honor their Mother” of course.

And let’s step outside of our human intellect and ability to reason for a minute.

Our beautiful Lady has been appearing throughout History all over the world, performing

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

miracles and giving messages for ALL her children.   One apparition in particular gives us visual and supernatural proof of the nature of Mary’s exalted status as Queen of Heaven and the Woman clothed with the Sun in Revelation.  In the 1500’s, the Virgin Mary appeared in then Pagan Mexico, to Juan Diego, and told him to ask his bishop for a church to be built in her honor.  When Juan Diego reported this, the bishop required proof.  Juan Diego then asked the Virgin Mary for proof and was told to gather a very rare rose that was in bloom as proof of the miracle of the apparition.  He gathered the roses in his tilma and took them to the bishop and when he opened his tilma not only did the roses fall at his feet but the tilma contained an image, put there supernaturally.  This image is still preserved like new on the tilma to this day and scientists agree that it is unprecedented.  There are many ‘proofs’ of this miraculous event in both religious and scientific circles and I encourage you to soak in the wonder of it all if you are not already familiar.  Read about the truly remarkable scientific findings in her eyes and on her cloak and so much more. You can find the complete story HERE.

Which brings us to the point.  What was the result of this apparition?  Over 9 million Aztecs converted to Christianity.  That sounds like power to me.

Mary existed in time to bring Jesus to the world, and she exists still for the same purpose!  Oh what a treasure and a gift Our Mother Mary is.

To Jesus, through Mary

Further Reading:

from Mark Mallett’s blog: Why Mary?

On Mission Adoption: MARY

3D

We took the family to see Madagascar 3 in 3D the other day.  (A great family movie for all ages!) The nine of us filed into our seats and got settled while I helped the two youngest (ages 4 and 2) with their special glasses, which went over very well and they were oohing and aahing over the scenes jumping out at them.

Real D glasses

Real D glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little while into the movie there was a particularly awesome 3D scene and I excitedly turned to the little girls to share their reaction because I just knew they must be almost overwhelmed with the awesomeness of something they don’t see everyday – or really ever!  But instead of childlike awe and wonder they were staring blankly at the screen – without their glasses on!  I couldn’t believe they were missing the experience.  What happened to the initial oohing and aahing?   Surely they just didn’t understand that if the glasses stayed on there would be more of that?  So in a screeching whisper I coaxed and cajoled until they put their glasses back on and sure enough their sweet little faces lit up again!  For about 5 minutes…  and then the glasses were off again.  I coaxed and cajoled again and glasses went on and so it went for the rest of the movie because I could not stand the fact that they were watching a dull and blurry screen when those little glasses so easily changed the whole game.  It made no sense really.  They saw and experienced how much better it was with the glasses on so why would they ever want to take them off?  But what could I do?  Forcing the glasses on would have been counterproductive, not to mention rude if crying and fighting ensued.  I was forced to watch the movie and simply accept the fact that I had done all I could to help my little girls experience the magic of a 3D movie, and failed.

This parenting moment reminds me an awful lot of the gift of free will God our Father gives His children.   He teaches and guides and coaxes and cajoles but ultimately we have the choice to follow and live in his will or not.  He gave us the gift of being able to freely choose for ourselves to accept Him or reject Him, that is, to live out our 3D life with or without our glasses on!  Of course He wants us to experience the fullness and beauty of our world, and creation itself was designed to elicit our awe and wonder, but if we won’t wear the glasses then we get the grainy and dull version.  How heartbreaking for God our Father to watch us partaking in life with less than He intended and less than we deserve.   He’s set us up Royally and at times we choose the pauper’s lot, hurting not only ourselves but also our ever-loving Father in Heaven.

Why would we do that??  I suppose it’s one thing if we don’t know any better, but even when we do  we often still reject God’s more excellent way.  Like my 4 and 2-year-old rejecting their glasses for no apparent reason, even after they had experienced the wonder of having them on.  It makes no sense!  Why not do it the way God has prescribed?  We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The answer lies partly in the cunning voice of our most ancient adversary.  The distractions and enticements that lead us away from the simple and obvious path of truth cause us to question the truths we’ve seen with our very own eyes.  The evil one deceives and conceals while obscuring our minds from counting the cost.  This is what Jesus warned against when He said,

 Mt. 7:13-14  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There is one path that leads to Heaven and It’s a path of Love.  We were created to know God and as such to Love.  We are called to be like little children, not only to Love but to be Loved.  Jesus is saying, buyer beware, the wide and varied paths lead directly to the manipulator of all that is good, for the evil one creates nothing of his own.  And when his work is done he can count on our own pride to perpetuate the lie.   After all who wants to admit they’ve chosen unwisely or wrongly?

God our loving Father wants so much for us to put on our glasses and expose the lies for what they are but more importantly to see the Love He offers so vividly that it seems we can reach right out and grab it!

Lord we pray that you illuminate the narrow road and give us the grace to choose to be on a path straight to you! Amen.