Just Begin

Ok, it’s time. I have begun…again. My littlest one has just turned one and my body is my own for five minutes, which means exercise! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little tired of this routine: 10th baby, 10th attempt at getting back in shape. Sigh. It’s a struggle for me to keep this body in check, but we only get one and we have a duty to take care of it, so here I am again.

I now have two weeks under my belt and have been reminded that the pain does give way to strength, all the previous excuses and objections melt away, and as in all things that are challenging, there are great spiritual lessons to be learned.

For me, getting started is always the hardest part. I know very well why I need to do it and that there will be great rewards before too long, but I still wasted weeks making excuses. “I’m just pulled in too many directions already. I feel exhausted, drained, and like I have nothing left to give,” I said. Probably 10 out of 10 friends would agree that I actually did not have time to officially go exercise. Even a quick 30-minute workout routine takes quite a bit of preparation and planning. I needed to decide with intention that I was committed to making it happen. Once I made that critical decision, I made it a priority and found something manageable for my circumstances. Finally, I got started and did my best. My first weeks didn’t always go quite as I imagined. At one point, I was on the floor trying to work my abs with a puppy licking my face, a baby crawling on top of me, and a running commentary from the 11 year-old boy child who was less than impressed with my abilities. But, I persevered through those first painful days and little by little started feeling results. My energy has increased, I am stronger already, and my clothes fit just a little better. Now that I have a routine down and am feeling as good as I am, I don’t ever want to stop exercising again! Why did I wait so long to begin?

I’m feeling the exact same way about my prayer time. Here I am, early in the morning before my house is buzzing, enjoying the richness and beauty of the silence, wondering what took me so long to begin?! Nothing can get in the way of this precious time like having a newborn and a driving need for sleep and that’s exactly how it went for me this past year. Peace and prayer had been replaced by a frantic longing to find that space for myself. I know firsthand how wonderful life gets when I devote some time in prayer each day and yet it felt difficult and I made excuses left and right. I was justifying all the demands on my time instead of taking a hard look at what I was doing with it and considering where I could make some changes. I knew the only thing I needed to do was show up. When we bring our will, God makes the way. Despite knowing all that, I procrastinated. I’m not sure when I decided to begin, but thankfully I finally did! I reorganized my routine a bit, let my family know how important it was for me, and decided with intention to show up. Since I’m not the most patient person in the world, the Lord had to teach me again to be still in mind and body. At first, my prayer time felt a little harried since I spent some of the first weeks asking Him to show me the fruit of it rather than just shutting up and letting Him. He was tilling this soil before planting and watering. But, I kept showing up because I know how necessary it is for my soul and my life and before long seedlings emerged. I kept coming back to soak up the sun and in no time the Lord brought forth His fruit. Life is beautiful and wonderful once again. Some days I only find minutes, other days it’s more, but it always seems to be the exact right amount for Him to give me all that I need.

As predicted, I find myself wondering how I ever survived without this time in silence. I am once again filled with peace, greater Hope, a stronger sense of my purpose, a more firm resolve, motivation to accomplish my duties, and greater Joy in the everyday stuff. I love better and more readily, am frustrated less, forgive more easily, and hold my tongue more successfully. My relationships have all improved. My crosses no longer seem so heavy. I see more clearly, listen more readily, and hear more effectively. I have better self-control and more discipline, which helped me find time to start exercising! The world around me feels fresh and new, reminding me that, Syracuse weather notwithstanding, “It’s a beautiful day.” The more the Lord fills me up, the more I crave Him in every way. I am the handmaid of the Lord. My life is the same and yet everything about it is infinitely different. Seriously, if we could bottle this, people would be beating down the doors for it!

Why did I ever wait even one minute longer before making this time for the Lord?! It’s not a mere chore that I am duty bound to fulfill, but more like a budding romance full of newness and excitement. The light of Heaven colors my vision and, unlike exercise time, every moment in prayer feels like the greatest gift. The silence draws me as nothing else ever could because l have found my truest love and He awaits me there. For this love, were we all made.

Just begin!

Psalm 139
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1
You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
7
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17
How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.
19
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23
Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

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.

Anna18

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.

This is good….

A recent Godversation

ME: The situation is just too difficult.  I just can’t help

GOD:  Whatsoever you do to the least of my people you do to me

ME: I’m hardly talking about the least of your people

GOD: anyone in need is the least of these

ME: I have too much on my plate already

GOD: I will never give you more than you can handle

ME: I’m afraid

GOD:  You’ve already gone where many will never go and you know I

go before you always. Try Again

ME: I don’t know how to help

GOD: Give

ME:  How much?

GOD: As much as I’ve given you

ME: I have a family to take care of first, I can’t just give everything

GOD: I take care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, how much more will I take care of your family?

ME: I’m tired

GOD: My yoke is easy and my burden is light

ME: Do you have an answer for everything???

GOD: I allowed the questions didn’t I?