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)

People Of Praise

People of Praise

I am always amazed when a part of the Mass jumps out at me and seems brand new, even after hearing it thousands of times. This week, I had praise and worship on my heart. I was wondering how I could do a better job at making my children grateful for all the little things we have grown accustomed to and take for granted. I sincerely hope they will never grow up to echo this prevalent thread of entitlement and victimization that runs rampant through our culture. I was thinking the antidote to that has to be a heart full of praise because when that’s the case how can there be room for anything else? Well, apparently the church and her 2000 year-old wisdom thinks so, too. I heard a part of the Eucharistic prayer this week for, what seemed like, the first time! Listen to this part of the Mass:
Priest: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Priest: Let us give Him thanks and praise.
People: It is right and just.

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks Lord, holy father, almighty and eternal God… And so, with all the Angels and saints, we praise you…”

It is not merely right and just to give thanks to God, rather, it is our duty and our salvation, and not just when we feel like it, but always and everywhere. These are the words spoken every single day, in every Catholic church in every corner of the world. Perhaps they have become so routine that their meaning doesn’t always register, but I was blown away by their wisdom in that moment. This is what I need to instill in my children. This is what I myself need to live more fully. It is right there in the holy Mass, which is a direct result of the scriptures and the deposit of faith (the teachings given directly by Jesus and his apostles). It struck me once again that there really is nothing new under the sun. A heart full of Praise is not merely a timeless antidote to the problems of the day, but it is a call to action that serves to keep God at the heart and center of our being. I think it is an action that has been overlooked and has gradually lost importance in our time and culture. We feel entitled to a rose garden, even though we were never promised a rose garden. We were only promised that all would be fulfilled in Heaven and all that we have that is good is from God in the first place. Nothing is our own doing.

So, as we face the storms in our lives and the mounting storms in the world, we need to keep Praise ever on our lips. When I am asked how I cope with the tragedies I have experienced, my answer is faith in God, the promise of Eternity and praising He who is sovereign over all. When I am asked for advice and prayer in a difficult situation, my first thought is to Praise God. In any difficult situation, especially a painful circumstance, I say, Praise God in it. It doesn’t mean you have to feel joyful or in the mood to praise, it means you should be obedient to the command we are given in scripture. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus ». (1Thes 5:18)

It is our duty and salvation to praise God. We are created to spend Eternity praising God alongside the choirs of angels. It is our duty now, so that when we are saved it will be our Joy. While it is certainly not the only thing we will do in Eternity, it will be something so infinitely fulfilling that we can’t really grasp it in the here and now. For the time being, we have to practice and learn to let praise flow out of us. When times are good that isn’t so difficult, but when times are difficult is when we need to call on this fundamental command. It is only in living a spirit of Praise that we cease to live a spirit of complaining, fear, anger, discontent, victimization and woe-is-me. The absence of this praise is often the absence of trusting that God is sovereign over the situation.

Always and everywhere we should Praise God. To be sure, this is a radical call. It’s one thing to be thankful to God for Life and Love in any season, but it is another to actually be thankful for our trials. Still, no matter the situation or circumstance, always and everywhere, we should first and foremost be thankful. Do we Trust God that our sufferings and trials have a divine purpose? Do we have the humility to let God be in charge instead of making our own angry demands? We have got to learn to be a people of Praise and Thanksgiving, because anything less means we are not giving God His due, in every circumstance, including the horrific, sad and terrible. When a loved one dies, for example, praise and Thank God. If you don’t know what in the world you would be thankful for in that situation, then I humbly suggest that now is the time to figure it out.

I am thankful for the hope and belief that my children and my mom are in heaven and beholding the beatific vision as we speak. I am thankful for all that will be accomplished through their death that could not be accomplished in their lifetime. I am thankful that I need and rely on God and His grace to stumble through the dark hours. I am thankful that He loves me enough to allow me to be refined and tested in fire. I trust Him and thank Him that I will emerge better than before. I thank Him for all the ways my life is made better because I knew and loved those people. I am thankful that death never has the last word. I am thankful that we will be reunited and they are now preparing a place for me and the rest of our family. I am thankful for the trial and the suffering and the fire because to God, I am gold, and strong enough to withstand it.

There is never a wrong time to give God praise and the really beautiful thing is that praise is a gift we give to Him, yet it is we who benefit. God does not need our praise. He doesn’t have an ego that needs inflating or reassuring. He allows us to praise Him and in so doing we are transformed! Our hearts, minds, and words become more united to God and less united to the worldly attitudes that surround us.

Let us pray for one another in this important endeavor. May we become a People of true Praise!

Praise-the-Lord-FB.001

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)

( Psalm 9:1-2) I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

(Psalm 19:1) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

(Psalm 7:17) I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

(Psalm 44:8) In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever. Selah

(Psalm 147:1) Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

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.

The Desert

I find that one of the hardest things about grieving can be navigating all the anniversaries.  On top of the obvious, birthday and date of death, are other dates that have significance in the family or to the situation.  With Michael we had the date of diagnosis in December and then the date of his first surgery in January when we were given such devastating news.  Our make-a-wish trip in July stands out because it was obvious we were nearing his last days here.  I discovered in the first few years after he died that I spent most of July and August battling an unexplainable malaise.  Of course it is explainable but as I was busy and going about my life I didn’t notice when it started or where it came from, only that mercifully it ended.  I’ve come to think of those times, whether it be one day or several months, as time in the desert.  It is time that I know I will emerge from with renewed energy and hope.  And when I do it is like resurrection.  My Joy for living is restored.  The old has passed away and the new has been born.  Life is full of deaths and resurrections; in nature, in relationships, in church.  Who doesn’t look forward to the promise of spring, or making up after a fight or the start of a new liturgical season.  We are creatures of seasons I think, especially when they are cyclical and expected.  The thing with grief is that it is often so unexpected.  There is no way to plan for exactly how intense it will be or when it might end and if the going gets too tough it can be overwhelming.

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Anna’s 18th Birthday

This month is Anna’s birthday.  She loved her birthday.  I mean most of us like our birthday but Anna LOVED her birthday.  She looked forward to it all year long.  She reminded us every July 27th that we were halfway there. And not because it was anything grand, though she did always hold out hope for something akin to MTV’s sweet 16 bashes, but because it was a day full of potential promise.  The Joy and excitement of the unknown possibilities fueled her and yet she never seemed to have any real expectation. (well except when she was 3 and we dared give her clothing.  I guess she had an expectation of NOT getting clothing). Her day was a surprise and a gift for her every year.  And it was hard not to be excited with her.

19 years ago this month my life was irrevocably altered (It was altered 9 months before that of course too!).  I experienced a radical redefining of myself.  Where I had been merely Karen or Mrs. Pullano, I was now Mom.  Anna was the name behind my first Mother’s Day card.  She defined me for the new season of my life.  It feels strange to have this day without her.  As it approaches and the grief of her loss inserts itself, I know from experience I am heading back in the desert.  I also know from experience that it is necessary, even if a little messy, to accept that I am there and make the most of it.  Usually  in the desert life feels like a delicately balanced house of cards that could come crashing down at any moment.  Luckily my time spent there over these last years has helped prepare a foundation made of steel since time in the desert is always first and foremost a time of prayer.  From morning until night and sometimes through the night, every breath, every thought and every word is a prayer.  Before I get out of bed I offer myself, and every imperfect moment of my day, to God. I beseech my Holy Mother to be with me and try to emulate her loving example.   I make sure I carve out a few minutes to read scripture or a daily devotional like Magnificat. When I get in my car I listen to CD’s of praise and worship music or a podcast of the Rosary.  I pray with my kids as much as possible about what is going on in their lives.  I pray a rosary. I call on the saints in heaven and the holy souls in purgatory for intercessory prayers.  We pray before bedtime and often I fall asleep listening to the rosary again.

It is prayer for survival but I know eventually there will be fruit.  The fruit is the armor of a steel foundation. The cards may fall but can easily be picked up again.  Life cannot really bring me harm.

For now I am content to give myself to the desert.  It is where I have been taught to pray always, even after I emerge.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes 5:16-18)

I know from experience what I will NOT do during this time.  I cannot afford to get lost in television or movies or social media or books.  Those will provide temporary distraction and enjoyment but leave me in an abyss of worldly emptiness. As attractive as they may be in the moment I will reach instead for scripture or inspirational reading about scripture that lift me to the realm of Heavenly fulfillment. 

I will NOT allow my thoughts to go to the ‘what ifs’.  “If Anna were here she would be…” or “we would be…”.  Those are just sad fantasies.  At best her birthday can only be a remembrance of birthdays past.

I have learned from experience that I don’t mind being in the desert.  It isn’t the worst place to be.  That’s the beauty of this cross.  I don’t have a lot of choice about being here but happily discover that it is good for me here. It is fruitful.  Just as it was for Jesus.  How often in scripture does Jesus go off to fast and pray?  He did that on purpose and for good reason.

Time specifically saved for prayer is imperative to survival and spiritual growth.  I cherish the times that I am able to shut off all the noise of the world around me.  It is healing.  It is restorative and grounding.  It keeps life in perspective.  It is like filling up the gas tank and it needs to be filled often.

Catholics who dive into Lent will understand a bit of what these times are like for me.  During Lent we practice self-denial and deeper prayer, “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). The difference is that there is a definitive beginning, (Ash Wednesday), and definitive ending, (Easter Sunday), and if the going gets tough there’s always the option of ‘cheating’ to gain a little reprieve.   What I experience is sometimes unexpected, always of an undefined duration and there is no quarter.  The only way out is through. And the only way through is prayer.  I live Lent many times throughout the year.

And it isn’t the worst thing.  By far, the worst thing would be living outside of obedience to God.  I much prefer the desert to that and in fact the desert, like Lent, is a time to listen more deeply to what God is asking of us.  The desert leads me to Joy.

I am sad this January without Anna, plain and simple. As her birthday approaches the reality that for the first time in 19 years I don’t have a reason to celebrate is sinking in.  Do we have a party anyway?  It doesn’t seem right to let the day go by unrecognized but it doesn’t feel like much of a celebration.  And God help me, I would never choose this even though a part of me recognizes that this cross is good for my soul.  It is good for me.  So I guess for her birthday I will borrow a page from her book.  I will look forward to the desert with excitement for all the promise it holds.  The end result will be different from anything I can conceive of.  It is a surprise full of the excitement of unknown possibilities for my soul.

Surrender

The question I’m being asked daily is “How are you doing?” followed by “No but, how are you really doing????”  (and I so appreciate the love and care and concern behind the question).  Depending on the person and situation my answer varies but the most honest thing I can say is that I’m terrible and wonderful.  I marveled at this strange coexistence after Mikey died and struggled to reconcile myself with the truth of it.  And here I am again in this achingly familiar place…

Anna Pullano 1/27/95-3/2/13

Anna Pullano 1/27/95-3/2/13

The fog and shock of early days is gradually lifting and is being replaced by a reality that is vivid and real and unescapable.  We are going about our daily lives because that’s what you do but the world is tipped a little on its axis.  It just doesn’t feel quite right.  And then moments come that knock the wind right out of my barely flapping sails and it’s all I can do to move on to the next moment.  It seems like everything around me should shift into slow motion somehow.  I’m almost surprised to realize every time that precisely nothing stops or slows down.  In fact no one around me or in the entire world could have any idea of the inner horror of those moments.  I miss my first-born daughter in a way no one else could possibly miss her.  My relationship with her was unlike anyone else’s.  The void in my life and in my family feels vacuous at times and it’s a very lonely and isolated place to be.  The disbelief that the accident actually happened and resulted in Anna’s instant death washes over me again and again.  How can it possibly be true?  What are the chances?  We had no warning. No goodbye. No second chance.  She’s simply no longer here.

In those moments I am terrible.

No matter what truths I know and hold dear the terrible moments rise up and they are beyond my control.

There are a few things I can control however and in those moments I call on the power I have been given to choose a course of action.  I very literally call on the holy name of Jesus and beg Him to come into my present moment.  I get on my knees.  I get on my face.  Not my will but yours be done.

I Surrender.

I offer myself and my pain and every ounce of terrible to the Lord and ask His grace and mercy in return. His gifts can’t be received without surrender though.  Only when I am empty can He fill me.  When I have nothing He reminds me that He has everything I need in every single moment.

And when I come to that, again and again,  I am wonderful!  I am amazed and inspired by the power of Christ within me.

The past memories and the future what-if’s fade into meaningless-ness and the glory of the real future we have is made present.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14)

When I surrender, God restores my strength of will to stand in the present moment and accept it for exactly what it is.  If I’m truly honest the present moment is not terrible. I can count my blessings and my gifts.  I know He is present and at work within me and in my life.  I can trust Him and who better to trust than the one with the Power?  I know the promises He has given me and is fulfilling despite the present sufferings.

 He reminds me of the reason for my Joy and I am wonderful.

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.

I Work Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wouldn’t they?

After all the land of milk and honey awaits.