Freedom

By Karen Pullano

Remember that you are dust. To dust you shall return

Remember that you are dust. To dust you shall return

As Christians are choosing to enter this Lenten season with sacrifice and suffering today, I’m preparing to mark the anniversary of Anna’s death once again. Four years later, her loss is still very present even as the details of her accident and death are trying to fade away.  I say trying because they would fade but for the unexpected reminders that pop up and bring them rushing back into my presence. Those moments can bring keening pain, but I’ve written before of how fruitful they are as well. I would even go so far as to say that those moments are a gift.  They are my tether to a more intimate time with Jesus when he carried me tenderly through the darkest valley.  I am thankful for those moments even as I rejoice in where I am now. I have walked a million miles but somehow feel strong enough to walk a million more.

The Lord has not abandoned me, but comes to me differently now. His lessons still feel extraordinary, but are born more simply out of the ordinary.  I would love to share these moments more often and hope that I can make the space to do that.  He is always teaching, leading us to truth, and guiding us to Himself.

Something that comes to light for me all these years after losing Michael, and then Anna, is that I truly walk in freedom.  It was an ordinary conversation with my sister that brought this beautiful truth to light recently. 

She has been struggling for more than a year with food intolerance and allergy issues.  I would say it has gotten worse over time, as figuring out the culprit remains a mystery, despite careful and methodical tracking and eliminating of foods.  It is a process that has required much thought and careful planning and preparation, and she has devoted herself to that process wholeheartedly. Despite her efforts, it seemed that so many different foods were to blame for her symptoms and finally one day I heard her lament the fact that she’s just allergic to it all.  (Kind of an overwhelming and depressing conclusion considering we need to eat several times a day for forever!)  She has sought the help of doctors along the way, of course, and was directed to a simple blood test to check for food intolerances.  She did it and waited the 8 long weeks for results.  When they arrived, it felt much as she suspected. The list of foods she should avoid is long and daunting.  In fact, she’s made a list of what she can eat instead of what she can’t! It’s a little hard to believe, and before she had even digested the news (no pun intended!), she said the following beautiful line.  “This is freedom.” 

On its face, those results should have felt like a death sentence.  I mean she’s allergic to lettuce, for crying out loud. That’s basically water. Personally, I might have cried in frustration and anger at the unjustness of it.  Since when is food poison?  But to her, “this is freedom.” To know the truth, even if it means embracing the cross, is freedom.  So ordinary. So extraordinary.

To walk in the light of truth is freedom.  The moment my baby boy left this world was the moment that eternity got real for me.  It was a definitive knowing that we are journeying to somewhere, and Someone, and this is only our home for a time. Perhaps it was a grace that gave me to know this Truth with such certainty that it changed me at my core.  Perhaps Truth is the reason God allows suffering at all. I was made for God. I belong to God. It took suffering in this world to make me look that full in the eye.  I am forever free. 

Saying goodbye to Anna several years later only served to confirm all the Truths that are written in my heart.  The physical separation was just as horrific as the first time, but the Truth was solid ground in my world when it felt like it was spinning out of control. My identity and my purpose remain unchanged.  The destination is ever before me.  This may be my cross, but it is amazing what we can endure for the price of Truth.

We know freedom is never free.  Just as we have our brave military to thank for the privilege of living in this great land of the free, every created person on Earth has Jesus to thank for carrying His cross to His death. 

Suffering always was, and always will be, but He redeemed it by His love and set it apart as the narrow way. The price has been paid, for all men everywhere. The challenge to love radically has been thrown down and though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death for a time, we can know with certainty that Love and suffering are the path to true Freedom.   

If you have never known suffering, then welcome to Lent.  Like Truth, sacrifice is ever before us, and the Church, in her wisdom, sets aside this time before resurrection so that we might enter more deeply into suffering. Freedom is actually not the ability to simply choose whatever we want. Truly that is slavery: to feelings, wants, and desires. True freedom lies in our ability to choose the narrow way: to walk in the light of truth even when it’s painful and difficult. It is not freedom FROM suffering that we should seek, but rather the freedom to stand up to, and emerge from it, in paradise.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1)

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32)

The Hope In ISIS

I was outside playing catch with Andrew a few days ago and one of my throws went way off course. He made a running, leaping, reaching catch before falling proudly to the ground with ball in glove. He, of course, gave a play-by-play commentary afterward saying, “Terrible throw by Mom, really awesome catch by Andrew!” Just calling it as he saw it (with a big smirk on his face). I saw it a little differently and happily gave him my point of view. My terrible throw gave him the opportunity to make an incredible catch. He needed my terrible throw.

As we all know, the atrocities being committed against Christians in Iraq, Africa, and elsewhere are top news stories of late. Our fellow Christians are being murdered and brutalized and, as our country’s leader stands seemingly silent, the situation feels dire and dark. We are feeling helpless as we watch in wide-eyed horror, with the powerful exception of coming together in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Certainly, I don’t want to make light of the horror by suggesting it compares to something as trivial as throwing a baseball around, but I do see tremendous Hope in the horror. ISIS is providing an opportunity to stand before the world and boldly give up everything for Christ. ISIS is drawing the line in the sand in a monstrous way, thereby allowing Christ followers to set an example and send a powerful message, to their God and to the world.

Arabic-NazareneEvery night, my family prays and gives thanks to God for these faithful Christians willing to risk everything, in the eyes of the world, for the one thing only seen with the eyes of Faith. They are a beacon, a light post on top of the hill, standing up for the only thing that truly matters. They risk everything to claim Christ and they know it. They possess Christ so much so that not only are they willing to die for Him, but mothers are willing to let their children die for Him. It is beautiful and it is encouraging. It is the Hope we need in this darkness, an example to be pondered while we pray for that kind of faith and relationship with the Savior. Do you have a faith worth dying for? What is our own suffering now in light of martyrdom and persecution?

Some of the most haunting images coming across my newsfeed are those of children and babies, mutilated and beheaded. The cry comes from deep within me as I think of my own sweet innocent baby. Surely, I would die for her. Why the innocent children, Lord? But then I ask myself, “Would the slaughter of only adults make it somehow more palatable”? These children are marked for Christ and I think it is a sign of even greater hope. Just as in the days of Herod, when he slaughtered all the male children because he couldn’t find the true object of his hatred, these holy innocents are being sacrificed. Then, as now, evil thrashed about like a kid having a temper tantrum, destroying all that it could in its path. Why? The answer is so simple and so full of HOPE!! Because God lives! God lives here and now and He has a plan unfolding. The Christians in Iraq are chosen as part of the unfolding. Those who have died, now live. They are a great light for the world and yet just a shadow of the True light that is coming.

Shortly after Anna died, I had a very strong message and experience that I could not fully understand. I wrote about it here. It was of a sunrise that wasn’t quite full of the splendor and majesty I was expecting or seeking, and yet it was a sunrise that dispelled the darkness all the same. It was a sunrise with the hope and expectation of bright rays burning through the clouds at any moment, but it was incomplete and fell short. What was the Lord trying to tell me? I understand that experience with a little more clarity now. We may not feel the hot sun on our faces quite yet, but we must TRUST fully, deeply, and wholeheartedly that the sun is there and the clouds cannot last forever. Even if that sun sets behind clouds and we are steeped in darkness, we must TRUST that it is only dark for a time. The sun will rise in splendor and glory.

The time to seize opportunities to choose Christ, to choose our faith, and to choose Truth is now. It is critically important that we hone a faith like Abraham. Pray for it. Beg God for the kind of faith that willingly offers your child as a sacrifice to Him. We all know the story of Abraham and Isaac when the Lord stays the father’s hand at the 11th hour and spares the son. We breathe a sigh of relief and hug our own children a little tighter, but that’s not the end of the story. Along comes Jesus, willingly offered and sacrificed by the Father, and this time there is no stay.  Anything less than the full sacrifice just does not get the job done. The willingness to lay down life isn’t adequate, only the actual giving of life will suffice for the salvation of the world. The sacrifice of Jesus was once for all, but it is the model for each of us to follow daily. There have been many throughout history who have done exactly that. We need to be prepared to give back to the Lord all that He has given us including our very life. It is the example of faith that we need for the salvation of our souls in these dark, dark days. Every single martyr is a beacon of HOPE that sends a clear and strong message. Dying is not true death. Dying for Christ is true Life.

Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (MT 16:24-26)

These holy men, women, and children who refuse to deny their Lord are heroes and champions. I will tell you of the true horror and tragedy taking place around the globe because, sadly, it will never get reported.  It is the tragedy of the Christians who are being given the opportunity to choose Him, but instead are denying the Christ. “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” (MT 10:33) We must pray for them as we pray for ourselves.

When a gunman, the unpopular Truth, the socially unacceptable Church teaching, or the private battle with sin calls us to account, will we choose Christ or will we sever ourselves from the Body? No matter the consequence, will we have the courage to take the outstretched hand of our Blessed Mother and say, “Yes Lord. Not my will but yours be done.” At any cost? At every cost? After all, there is no cost greater than Eternity. Our brothers and sisters being persecuted by ISIS know this intimately and many have chosen boldly.

No matter their past sins or successes, when given the choice by ISIS to convert or die, their entire lives of faith have boiled down to one choice in one moment. And the rest of the Body proclaims, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Pray for us.”