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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Reflections from the Treadmill #2

By Karen Pullano

If you missed the first installment click here CrossTreadmill

Love Gives meaning to Suffering

If you have ever run a 5K for a worthy cause then you will easily understand what I mean here. There are lots of organized runs for wonderful causes out there and they are generally intended to raise money and awareness for a particular organization or charitable cause. Forget about the financial aspect for a minute and ask yourself this: how did running or walking in that race do anything for the cause? Why did you do it? Why did they want you to do it?
The answer is quickly obvious. By lending your support, encouragement, and strength, and standing with many in solidarity, you strengthen the cause, right? You get behind something you believe in and are willing to sacrifice in order to do it. It is a demonstration of Love and good.Maybe there is training involved that has taken dedication and perseverance. Think about what got you to that 5K. If it was dedication to a cause, then you know exactly what it is to offer up suffering for Love.

So too, we can make an offering of our suffering for God’s “cause.” I love Him so infinitely that I could never suffer or sacrifice enough for Him. I have only to look at the cross and be reminded of the scourging, the thorns, and the garden, and I know that what I’m going through is only a shadow of what Christ did out of Love. The more I Love Him, the more meaning my suffering takes on.

I further proved this to myself the other day when I was praying for someone so dear to me that I would give my life for them. I set a grueling goal on the treadmill as a prayer offering (okay it was only 2 miles, but I felt I needed some added drama here). As expected, about halfway through, I thought I was done for, but no amount of pain could have kept me from offering up that effort for this person that I love. Like running in solidarity at a 5K, when we offer prayer together with sacrifice it carries more weight. It’s like saying to God, this is so important to me that I am willing to follow your lead and suffer for this cause. We unite ourselves to the cross, which is the supreme act of Love.
I was amazed at my own determination and ability to push myself to my limits. My deep and intense love motivated me like nothing else could have.

When we learn to love God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, more deeply, our burden is lightened. That Love is truly the Yoke Jesus asks us to take.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30)

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Reflections from the Treadmill

Reflections from the Treadmill

By Karen Pullano

Greetings – I hope you have missed me! I’m finally getting back to my computer and writing from the land of snot and viruses.  Despite my lapse, I hope you haven’t completely forgotten all about me!

Well, the bad news is that it’s been a busy, and sometimes difficult, few months. Anna’s birthday, following on the heels of the holidays, really threw me for a loop. Read how I found my bearings again on Godversations “Dressed for Battle”. Just in time too, as Lent is upon us and the anniversary of Anna’s death is on March 2nd. I am dressed for battle!!
The good news is that I have experienced first-hand, once again, the total Love, Power, and Grace of God as He and our Lady personally walked me out of the valley and set me back on the path up the mountain. The Lord is always at work on me, giving me ever more to learn.

Needless to say, I have been digging deep into prayer on the topic of suffering and have lots to share with you all. You might be surprised to know that some of my best prayer these days has been born from great physical discomfort.
The truth is that I decided it was time to get my butt off the couch and start exercising again. (I’ve milked the am pregnant/have a newborn/am breastfeeding excuse for 18 months now and finally had enough of my little kids patting my tummy and asking when the baby is coming out.) So, in short order, I jumped on my treadmill and started running.

Now, I must give the disclaimer that I am in no way an actual ‘runner.’ I don’t love it, am not built for it, and was in no way prepared for actual running, but rather saw it as the quickest and shortest means to the end. Nose to the grindstone, let’s just get ‘er done. Being a busy mom, I had the brilliant idea to multitask and nourish the soul while abusing taking care of the body. With Anna’s crucifix on the wall before me, and a podcast of the rosary playing, I embarked on a new journey.

It’s been several weeks now and I am amazed at what I have learned on this new quest. Runners, non-runners, and wanna-be runners, I bring you my “Reflections from the Treadmill” series. I think everything you need to know about suffering can be learned on this beastly device…

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Persevere
Once I decided to start running, I was excited and ready to blast off, full steam ahead! I knew I would soon be reaping all the great benefits of exercise and losing weight. I was happy to be getting my prayer time in; I know from experience how critical it is to have an organized prayer routine. I could practically feel my heart pumping healthier just thinking about it. So, I just did it. I started running. And for about 45 seconds there were choir bells chiming in my head and imagined crowds cheering and celebrating. It felt like I had overcome a tremendous hurdle just to get on that machine and here I was actually running! After a minute I realized that I was a bit winded. Then my legs were getting a little heavy. Two minutes in and there was pain and pounding in the vicinity of my heart. Cramps were seizing my legs. I couldn’t hold my core muscles in tight anymore and my back was starting to hurt. I realized maybe I had counted my chickens a little before they hatched. I had no idea how I would ever get through. I wanted to speed up, so it would be over faster, but faster would have resulted in certain death. If I tried slowing down, it would have just prolonged the agony. What to do? I had set a goal and was determined to make it on my big day #1. There was only one choice in order to make my goal and that was to just keep running. Persevere. Endure.

When we have crosses and trials to bear there are times the weight is crushing. I know I have had moments during my deepest grief of wondering how I would get my next breath of air into my lungs. The pain and the coping was elemental. I breathed in and out the name of Jesus, and just kept breathing. Little by little as I got used to the burden, He led me to the next place. Just keep trusting. Just keep surrendering. The only way out is through. There is no escaping if you want to make the goal, there is only getting stronger, and growing in love and virtue.
Suffering is a call to bear up, do something new, and keep moving forward.

Sometimes on the treadmill I have to slow down and walk for a few minutes. (Only in moments of life and death of course.) In carrying our cross, it might seem like we don’t get that option. What do you do when pain and grief feels like life or death but you can’t get out from under? You can’t speed up or slow down and there’s no relief in sight? Recommit yourself to trusting in God. Help is here!

Like Jesus, I have had my own Simons along the way. They can’t completely take the cross away, but they sure can help. By God’s Grace, I find the strength to bear up and know I am ever growing closer to the goal. The Blessed Mother is another treasure to me. She has given me respite more times than I can count with her gentle acceptance and her confident yet humble trust in God. You do not walk your road to calvary alone.

Sometimes, I want to whine and cry like a child, and plead that the burden be lifted. I am only human after all. Sometimes I just get so sick of it, but the deafening silence reminds me to keep my eyes on the goal. I’m running this life race for a real and grand purpose, and trusting and hoping that the pain and suffering will bear fruit sweeter than I can imagine.

Persevere. Endure.

“…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.…”(Heb 12:1-2)

Don’t miss the next riveting installment of “Reflections from the Treadmill”! Sign up on the sidebar of the blog (the button that says follow) to receive the latest updates.  For the next post in the series click here.CrossTreadmill

FYI: I use the laudate app for all things Catholic including the Rosary podcast. Here’s a link to a review and download button for both droid and iPhone at Catholicapps.com

So, Let’s Talk About Sex

Hello, friends. I hope you have missed me, because I’m back from a wonderful summer of rest, relaxation, family, and prayer. And what better way to jump back into blogging than this hot topic of life?
I am inspired because recently our pastor at Holy Family, Fr. Prior, made mention of Natural Family Planning (NFP) during his homily. Yes, you heard that correctly – at every weekend mass, where lots and lots of people heard it! I know, hold on to your hats.

To paraphrase, he said something along the lines of, “Catholics are called to learn the beauty and wisdom of NFP in their marriages rather than use artificial birth control.” He said it much better, of course, as his homilies are always well prepared, beautifully executed, and full of Wisdom and Truth.

In reflecting on why this struck me so deeply, I recognized the fact that in all my years of being Catholic (40!), I have never heard a priest broach this topic. I’m sure there are priests out there talking about it, (I hope!), but I had never heard one. And I realized how sorely I have wanted to hear it during the last 20 years of my marriage. In fact, we didn’t find and officially learn NFP until after our 8th child. Yes, 15 years of marriage and 8 children, before we were finally brought face to face, in a tangible and practical way, with the wisdom the Church has possessed all along. Through the John Paul II Center for Women, we found a teacher who opened our eyes to an entire culture of Catholics living and learning the truth we had been unknowingly seeking.

In the early years of our marriage, before we were truly living our faith, we struggled with the concept of being open to life. It was hard. I mean H.A.R.D. As a young mom with two little girls I was frequently exhausted, frustrated, and out of patience. I was out of shape mentally, spiritually, and physically and felt like having babies was draining the life out of me. Looking back, it’s so plain to see that I was very ‘me-centered’ and not truly ‘God-centered’. I felt entitled to control and decide and choose rather than look at my fertility and marriage as an incredible and powerful gift. I simply did not appreciate that participating in creation is the most humbling honor imaginable. It does carry a heavy responsibility and sometimes an overwhelming work-load and, for me, required a tremendous amount of Trust and Surrender that I was not capable of giving, I guess.

Nevertheless, as Bill and I lived out our vocation of marriage, it is fair to say that despite a lack of teaching on the subject, we knew in our hearts that God was not, and could not possibly be calling us, or any married couple, to the use of artificial birth control. It presented an enormous challenge for us in society because we literally knew no one in our daily lives that could corroborate that. There were families out there of course, but we did not know them. The Catholics we met seemed to have no concept of this teaching of the Church and didn’t want to know it either! It was confusing, and a constant topic of angst in our marriage, knowing we wanted to ditch birth control and we should ditch it, but were a little too terrified to give up control in that area of our lives. Even when we did, we were still resisting.  There was obedience but not true surrender.  Still though, God brought tremendous fruit despite our incomplete offering.  I share this because if I had ever once been at mass and heard a priest say that I was called to learn and practice NFP and not use artificial birth control, it would have changed the game for me. Truly. I needed to be told and reassured and encouraged that it was the obedient thing to do.  I knew it in my heart because God has a way of putting Truth there, but it was hard.
Before too long, the Lord placed a shining example before us – a couple who were living this Wisdom authentically. My sister and brother-in-law obediently put their Trust in God alone and bore much fruit (figuratively and literally!) They were like a beacon of light for me, dispelling the darkness of fear, when the world tried to keep me enslaved. For their example, I am eternally grateful.  Still, I remember constantly relying on the excuse (because, oh yes, people asked!) that I couldn’t take the pill because of my risk for breast cancer and joking that I would much rather have a child than cancer.  Incredibly, that answer was always better received than simply saying we were letting God decide what we could handle. Really??? Think about that.  Creating life and welcoming a child was on par with not getting cancer!  It was and continues to be confusing and backward, and quite sad, really.

The Truth, as the Church has always taught, is that sex is beautiful and wonderful, and ordered for the purpose of unifying spouses and creating life. (CCC #2363) Outside of marriage and being open to life, sex is dis-ordered (i.e. not as God intended) and less beautiful and wonderful. It is a sad reality that so much of the world settles for less than the divinely ordered design for human sexuality.

I think it’s human nature to want to find a way out of things that are hard, but what I want even more is to be an obedient daughter. The world does not know better than God the Father. As it turns out, my own selfishness needs to be subject to authority. As it turns out, following the sometimes difficult call of God is the most fruitful for our souls. As it turns out, giving up control has led to freedom.

If you are sitting on the fence like I was, and straddling the line between control and trust, let me assure you there is nothing to fear.  All things are possible with God and I would not give back a single one of my children!  If it’s proof you need, no need to dig through the Internet before the days of Google for a copy of “Humanae Vitae,” or desperately search the library for affirmation in books or testimonies.  There are blogs and Google and the John Paul II Center for Women, and good and holy priests committed to spreading the Good News.
Thanks, Fr. Prior, for being a champion of women and fertility, and how to live the authentic wisdom of the Church in Marriage!

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For more information on where to find NFP in the Syracuse Diocese click here.  Intro sessions are being held at Holy Family on the first Tuesdays of the month!

Like a Child Rests

Going to mass with all of our children in tow is like a… like a…. well, I don’t know if there is anything that can compare actually. We file in the pew in a certain order, or in no order−it doesn’t really make a difference since there will be at least 300 seat shuffles before the hour is up. I sing, I break up fights, I worship, I soothe hurt feelings, I pray, I dry tears, I praise, I stifle giggles with a stern look, I teach, I recite, I rock and bounce and pacify, I disrupt a competition, and I make peace. Just for starters. Pheeewww. As quietly controlled chaos ensues, I wonder what my husband is doing way down on the other end of the pew. He sure looks unfazed. Probably he is just more efficient with the stern looks than I am.

Last week was particularly eventful. Maybe it was because we were away on vacation, but it seemed like I was doing double time. It was exhausting! At about the time of the consecration the baby mercifully fell asleep, which eased one burden, but made it twice as hard to manage all the rest. Still, I was grateful to be able to sink into the moments of deepest mystery with a still child in my arms. The rest I easily ignored for a few minutes. And as I walked up to receive the body and blood of our Lord truly present, I noted the stillness and peace of my infant. She was so deeply asleep that my kneeling and standing, ushering and moving didn’t cause her to so much as flinch. Her tiny arms were flung wide in abandon and her mouth hung slightly open. At 8 months old, she gets pretty heavy after a while, but there’s not a chance in the world I would even loosen my hold, let alone ever drop her.

I was marveling for the billionth time at the treasure this little life is, burden in my arms or no, when the choir started singing the song “Like a Child Rests” by Christopher Walker. It’s an oldie but goodie with familiar words, “Like a child rests in his mother’s arms, so will I rest in you,” but as if I had never heard it before, the words felt like a revelation. With utter trust, and not a care in the world, my child is able to rest in my arms. This is how we should be with God. Like a child. Like a babe in arms, resting peacefully with abandon and trust. He will never loosen His hold, let alone ever drop us. We need to learn to truly rest in Him. This is just one example of what Jesus means when He says, “Let the children come to me.”

You may be wondering, as I have myself, if there is much point to the whole exercise of bringing our kids to mass. I often take a split second longing for mass that is quietly and reverently between my Creator and me alone, and then I take time to properly thank God for my reality instead. I wouldn’t change it for the world because what looks like total unrest, is precisely the stuff I have to offer. I place it in God’s lap and He knows just what to do with it. He shapes it and gives it purpose, and I know that all of our failings and shortcomings will be made fruitful. I trust Him to do what I cannot and to do it better than my wildest imaginings allow. And I rest in Him. Like my infant resting in my arms in utter surrender, I am able to rest in Trust, secure in the arms of the God holding me tightly.

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me (Ps 131:2)