By Karen Pullano
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)