Reflections From The Treadmill #8

by Karen Pullano
This is my last lenten post on suffering. Thank you for journeying along with me and I hope you have been encouraged. Stay tuned for more Wisdom from the treadmill! Is there a 5k in my near future perhaps?
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Pruning

After six weeks of running on the treadmill it seems that I have a knee ‘issue.’ I’m not sure if it’s officially an injury, but what started as screaming rebellion from many of my joints has now settled into nagging, persistent pain and swelling solely in my right knee. I am trying to get in better shape here, not worse, so it is a little disappointing to have to baby it all the time, but strangely, I am ok with it. As annoying as it is, I feel like it was a necessary price to pay to get myself moving. I wasn’t moving otherwise, so I clearly needed to take drastic measures. I can live with the knee pain if it means far more important gains.

I think God allows and uses our trials and sufferings to prune us if we allow Him to. What feels like a casualty or loss is often necessary in order for new growth to happen. Our sufferings turn us more fully to our need for Him, which is always a far greater good than anything we can suffer here. I don’t exactly like this physical change with my knee but I do like the newfound stamina, muscle tone, and endurance I have gained. Spiritually, we can Trust the Lord to prune us in such a way that we are thankful for the new creations we can and will become, but it takes obedience and acceptance first. If we continue to cry over what we think we have lost, we are in danger of missing the fruit God is trying to grow in us.

I look to my own life, at the loss of my 4 year-old son, and I could question all day long why God let that happen. I remember vividly one particular moment during his illness. I was hiding in my bathroom for some private crying time and, looking back, I can clearly see that I had no acceptance in my heart whatsoever. I was desperately begging God to just let Mikey live and then I would change myself and my life in a million awesome ways. A week or so later, when we got some hopeful news, the first thought that popped into my head was, “Thank God, let’s get back to our regular life.” I hadn’t actually accepted that changes were necessary and good, rather I was focused solely on the outcome I desired. I guess if that weren’t human nature, we would never need pruning. It is only the result of our tremendous freedom and the choices we have made throughout human history that we experience suffering. It is never God’s will. On the contrary, I know the heart of Jesus was broken right along with mine when my son died. Jesus wept with me. His Mother was my constant companion. They both taught me what they knew from experience. All things are being made new.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:2)
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Holy Week Reflection from the Treadmill

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I love Holy Week. Our Faith life is so rich and full and the sense of anticipation is great. You may have noticed by now that I have a Love/Hate relationship with my treadmill that is echoed this week as well as in all of my sufferings. It seems fitting that, despite the expectation of Joy, we remember the greatest suffering of the Passion and death of our Lord, and share in that by our sacrifice. Thankfully, the moments of intense discomfort on the treadmill have grown fewer and there are actually moments that the work I am doing isn’t my foremost thought. I am reminded that we are not supposed to suffer always. There are seasons for every purpose under Heaven.

In my own sufferings, my cross is one that will never be gone from my shoulders, and yet, there are moments when I am not ‘suffering’ at all. There are plenty of times in my day-to-day life that I am not thinking of my sorrows or feeling their weight. There are many moments that my inner Joy is more present and I am filled with a sense of Hope. I know there are many reasons for that, not the least of which is tremendous grace, but there is room for both to coexist. They need to coexist. The one is made more powerful by the presence of the other.

The mysteries of the rosary speak to this constant dichotomy of suffering and Joy. Out of twenty mysteries surrounding the Life of our Lord and our Lady, only five of them are sorrowful. We only meditate on them two days out of seven (Tuesdays and Fridays). The church, in her wisdom, sets aside time each year to dig into suffering, but only six weeks out of fifty-two. How appropriate for me that the timing of my toughest dates lead in and coincide with this time in the church. For those who haven’t known suffering of their own yet, meditating on the sorrows of Jesus and Mary can transform us. How can we have hope in Resurrection if we don’t first know death?

I don’t only suffer, but I can speak to it well for having spent some time there; I have really gotten to know death. By Easter Sunday, I will be ready to shake the dust from my feet, put suffering in its place for a while, and rejoice with the greatest Joy that (sometimes here, and always for eternity) I get to know the reprieve from “having suffered.” I will rejoice whole-heartedly in the next season of Resurrection, which fills my soul with untold freedom and joy!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance.…” (Ecc 3:1-4)

Reflections From The Treadmill #7

By Karen Pullano

To read from the beginning of the series click HERE

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The Finish Line

As you well know by now, if you have been reading along with this series, I often limp across the finish line. I set a goal ahead of time and push myself to persevere and endure and although I always finish, it’s not always pretty. Lately though, I’ve been having a new experience. As I approach that last quarter mile, I don’t feel as though possible death is imminent. In fact, I feel pretty good and to prove it, I bump my speed up and sprint to the end! That looming finish line is just too tempting and it gives me a renewed burst of energy. All my discomforts are forgotten, knowing there will be time to catch my breath really soon, after I finish like a champ. I can hear the crowds already going wild!

In our trials and sufferings, it is important to focus on the goal, even as we are figuring out how to take the next step in front of us. Life here really is a series of deaths and resurrections as we live in this continuum of time and change. Crossing that finish line is like resurrection. For some, there will be an end to a suffering or trial right here on Earth; for others, there will be no true relief until Heaven. In either case, the finish line is divine Union with God, and our sufferings can bring us ever closer to that. Certainly, there is a time to just put one foot in front of the other in obedience, steady as she goes, and let the pain do a work in us. To quote my favorite line from Finding Nemo, in my best sing-song voice, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” We may not see it in the day-to-day struggle, but we are growing stronger and gaining endurance. We are learning our own strength. Then comes the time to pick our heads up, remember what we are about, and dig it out to the big finish with energy, strength, and joy. Resurrection awaits and all of Heaven is cheering wildly.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Cor 9:24-25)

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Reflections from the Treadmill #6

To read from the beginning of the series click HERE.

Preparation

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By Karen Pullano

As it happened, I started doing a 21-day gut cleanse diet when I was fairly new to the treadmill. (We should definitely have a riveting discussion of gut flora and healthy bacteria some other time. 😉 ) Basically, the diet consists of vegetables and a little meat and more vegetables; little to no grains at all. I was feeling pretty good, if slightly hungry, but didn’t think much of it as I got on my treadmill about five days into the cleanse.
I knew the minute I started running that I would never make it to the end. I felt weak in my bones. I wasn’t properly fueled and, grace notwithstanding, my simple human body couldn’t do it. Even though I was rested, dressed in comfortable running clothes, and outfitted with top of the line running sneakers, I was weak and exhausted from the start because I had nothing in the tank to draw strength from. I was prepared in many ways, just not the most important way.

I think there is truly only one way you can prepare yourself for suffering. Taking the time and making the effort to grow in relationship with God now, will give you His strength to draw on in times of crisis (not to mention the awesomeness of simply being in a relationship with God!). I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that Loving God will keep you from suffering. To the contrary, suffering is suffering and it hurts, just like running will still hurt no matter how well prepared I am. When trials come, the temptation will be to seek any manner of worldly comforts and distractions, but those things will never truly walk you through the suffering step by step. In fact, they will more likely deceive you and keep you from seeing clearly.  A relationship with God will set you up for success ahead of time.

Building any relationship takes an investment of yourself.
Draw near to the Lord, getting to know Him and His Word. Let yourself be truly and deeply loved by Him in the sacraments. See and understand your deep need for Him and seek Him. Storms must come in this fallen world, but recognizing your deep need for God is the beginning of Wisdom. Together you will weather whatever comes your way.

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him– may your hearts live forever! (ps 22:26)

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Reflections From the Treadmill #5

By Karen Pullano

For Post #4 in the series click HERE or to read from the beginning click HERE

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The Discipline of Decision

I usually hit the one mile mark at around the third mystery of the rosary and by this point I am getting tired.  (yes, already.  I know…..lame..)

I’m looking to relieve the growing discomfort and it’s distracting me away from the prayer.  In fact, the three decades left suddenly seem insufferably long.  As you know, I decided at the outset that this whole treadmill thing would be a time of prayer and sacrifice in my day, and here it is; the test.  But, I got this.  I force myself to re-focus on the words I am saying (in my head, since I can’t actually speak) and not the pain. 

This works for a bit, but before long my mind has drifted back to the lead weights I am hefting up and down and I’m seriously wondering when this will end!

The fourth mystery begins, but my God, when did two decades get so long?? Quitting is not an option, so I force my mind back to the cross on the wall.  As long as I stay there, I’m distracted from the pain.  Fifth mystery has me wondering if I really can finish it off.  I’m approaching the two mile mark and it’s like a tennis match in my mind.  Back to the prayer.  But, oh the pain.  What if I have an actual heart attack?  What better way to go than with “Hail Mary, full of grace…?”  And suddenly it’s done! Victory! I am alive and well.

In suffering, the minute I let my mind slip away from Christ, and turn to my pain, it can become unbearable.  It takes a conscious act of my will to ‘take captive every thought’ and decide to change course.  Turning back to Jesus and the cross and focusing on Him allows the suffering to become secondary and not so all-consuming.  Getting my mind off of my pain doesn’t necessarily come easily.  On the contrary, it often comes with a price: an offering or a sacrifice. It is a challenge that sometimes takes a strength I don’t realize I even possess, and the victory is sweeter for it.  Once I make the decision, by the power of my free will, grace abounds and my meager offerings are multiplied. This is always how God has worked in our salvation history, with us, teaching us, so that we can grow in wisdom, grace and love.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Heb 12:1-2)

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Reflections From the Treadmill #4

By Karen Pullano

For the 3rd post in the series click HERE

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Function not Form

After the first couple of weeks on the treadmill I noticed an interesting pattern.  When I first get on, I am pumped, feeling strong and in perfect form: abs tucked in, shoulders back, arms pumping, and a nice strike toward the balls of my feet (is that even a thing?? I think I just made that up).

By the middle of the run I am panting pretty well, dripping in sweat, and starting to lose form. The goal is no longer as clear and obvious, but I know it is there somewhere.

By the end, well, let’s just say, it ain’t pretty folks! There’s sweat flying, body parts flapping, and my chest is heaving with each breath.  I can barely see ‘the road’ directly in front of me, let alone the finish, and I desperately want to quit, but I don’t, because, well… Jesus.  I trust that the end is out there somewhere. I am a fool for lesser things all the time, so no matter how pathetic I look chugging across the ‘finish line,’ the point is, I finished.  I hit my goal. I did it!  Boy, does THAT feel good.

In our sufferings, things certainly aren’t pretty, but there will always be fruit.   In our struggles to cope, we may judge or criticize ourselves, or feel like a failure, but we are not alone. Overwhelmed by our suffering on top of the usual demands of life, we can trust God to bring something good from the mess.  With our obedience and perseverance, we will get through it, but we never suffer simply for suffering’s sake.  We endure our crosses for a purpose.  What appears to be a mess on the outside is in Truth, the perfect and necessary canvas for God to create in us His handiwork.

I am reminded again of St. Padre Pio’s analogy that when looking at the underside of a tapestry, you see a mess of strings and colors.  It looks like chaos, but when you flip it over and see the finished product it makes beautiful, coherent sense. 

I have often felt like this in my own grief. I only see as if through cloudy glass.  If only I could see the end result and understand how the mess, confusion, and ugliness of the moment is being woven together to make something good!  Instead, I put one foot in front of the other, as if blindfolded, and chug along.  The finish line will come and I will see and taste the Victory with perfect clarity.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)

For the 5th post in the series click HERE and don’t forget to sign up on the right to receive updates via email.

Reflections From the Treadmill #3

By Karen Pullano

To read from the beginning click HERE

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Be Not Afraid

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil….

After the first week of running I realized my body was seriously rebelling. Everything hurt and things were swollen. I have been stretching, and icing, and stretching some more, of course, but that only does so much good. I noticed I was approaching that treadmill with something akin to fear. I knew it was going to feel like the longest 30 minutes of my life and my heart would start pounding with dread before I even took a step. I tried not to think about it and obediently jumped on with determination to meet my goal.

In contemplating the cross on the wall before me, I thought of Jesus in the garden and how much fear and dread must have filled Him at the prospect of temporal and bodily torture. It was a solid act of His will to choose obedience in suffering for the greater good. Jesus went willingly to His torture. You might wonder, as I did, how in the world He was able to go willingly. He was living in a fully human capacity and had all the supernatural help that you and I would have, yet he chose obedience to His Father’s will. I can’t pretend to know the depths of what Jesus experienced in the garden, of course, but the psalmist gives the simple answer as to how I have been able to obediently accept my own crosses. “…I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Jesus knew that in a very deep and real way. This is why we are counseled throughout the scriptures to Be Not Afraid. God is with us and goes before us in every suffering. Let Him be your shepherd. Let His rod and His staff be your comfort.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps 23:4-6)

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