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.”

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.

FullSizeRender-4

Beyond the Suffering

When our son Mikey was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago I was terrified. I was terrified that he might die. Plain and simple. A life lived without my child was just unthinkable. His life was, and continues to be, infinitely valuable. We were told there was no cure for his cancer but we scoured the earth anyway to find some glimmer of hope that could save our child. We clung to the only shred of hope we could find in modern medicine and it wasn’t much. One child had survived this. One. So we treated our son, our treasured baby, in the same way, and we HOPED. We hoped in medicine and protocols and surgery and doctors. We hoped for one end and gave little, if any, thought to the suffering that might result. The truth is, there was no choice that didn’t take us down a path of suffering. We understood that, deep down, from the very first. We couldn’t spare Michael and we couldn’t spare ourselves. The only thing we could do was love him and love his life and take care of him in the very best way we knew how. That included modern medicine. We also knew deep down, that if God wanted Michael to live, he would use doctors and medicine to bring about healing. So we learned to pray and begged God for that.

It was painful and difficult to watch his little body decline and go through such trauma. He endured surgeries and medications and being stuck in the hospital when he wanted to be home playing with his siblings. The chemo robbed him of the ability to walk and his days were spent in a constant state of nausea and vomiting. We did everything within our power to make him comfortable, to distract him, to keep his spirits up, and help him Hope in a future where he would feel good again. Most days he would lie there, desperately quiet, and I imagined him just begging God to let it be over. When we needed some reassurance that he was okay, he would selflessly smile and say, “It’s a beautiful day”. When we started to lose hope, the comfort was always that he was still with us. He was still breathing and as long as there is life, there is hope. It never crossed our minds, not even fleetingly, to put an end to his suffering ourselves. That would have taken the hope of life away from us, possibly for eternity. I shudder now to even think of the sentiment so prevalent in our throw-away culture that does not value life and really does not value suffering.

That suffering was a vehicle, of untold Grace and life unending.

Naturally, I needed to cope with watching my child suffer. It hurt so much. In my prayers, begging God to spare him, He led me instead to Mary. I pondered her journey again and again, trying to learn from her the way to endure. I felt as though I was walking that road to Calvary right next to her. She was quiet and accepting, abiding in something that eluded me. I was crying out, scared, alone and desperate. She stood at the cross without flinching and absorbed every blow to her son with quiet dignity because she hoped in something not of this world. She hoped in the one thing that rendered brutal suffering powerless. Resurrection. She surrendered and trusted and hoped in a Love so powerful that the suffering and the death became the treasure. Suffering is a treasure that has the power to transform our scared and desperate hearts into hearts full of Trust and Love and Hope.

It was an agony to watch my baby suffer and a difficult road for a 3-year old to walk. Even as we prayed for his rescue every day, I lived an agony that transformed me. We suffer many things in this world for lesser gains. God knew, like the perfect parent that He is, that He was giving me the opportunity to choose Resurrection. Mary knew it too, from a lifetime of grace and learning that culminated in the cross. I learned it from a beautiful little boy, a heart full of a mother’s love and a deep understanding that every breath of life has the potential to overcome death. I don’t look back on Mikey’s journey as a nine-month battle of suffering. I look back and remember every day that I loved him. I remember every moment that I held his chubby hand, quietly enjoying the weight of it in my own. I remember reading to him and singing to him and trying to keep him entertained, and I remember the reward of his beaming smile when I succeeded. I remember washing and dressing him and praying with him; inhaling his unique scent. He told me one day that he needed a sword. He said it was his job to help St. Michael the archangel and I remember the determination with which he said it. I remember him teasing his brother even from a hospital bed where he clearly did not have the advantage. He knew his role as big brother well without ever having been taught. I remember him doting on his infant sister, Laura, and him wanting to care for her and protect her from the first moment he laid eyes on her. No, I don’t look back and see only suffering. I see a million moments of living and loving that I would never trade. More importantly, I understand now how those moments, good and bad, were at work in this mother’s soul. God had plans to prosper me! And Michael. I couldn’t possibly have known all the plans the Lord had for me. I still don’t, but I trust Him.

When Michael breathed his last, I was no longer terrified or desperate.  In those moments of death and devastation when I felt utterly empty, I learned the most important Truth of my life.  God revealed His presence and I knew with a peace that passes understanding that I had all I truly needed. I had learned to pray, not merely for the end I desired, but the end that would bring the greatest good for all of us and I was filled with the deep Joy of knowing my baby was face to face with his creator and had fulfilled his purpose in this created world. His suffering taught me Love in a way I never could have learned it otherwise. I was re-created in Christ and could never have seen that coming. Mary knew it though. God makes all things new.

We don’t have a choice about suffering as it will surely find us, but we do have a choice to make. We can pick up the cross and walk the very narrow road, or try and go our own way.
When I get my turn to stand before my God I’m not sure I will say, “Yes Father, it’s been a rollicking good time. Let’s do that again.” But, I will definitely say, “Yes Lord, it was all very GOOD. I got to know You here.”

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!