In Her Own Words: An Interview with Donna Puleo

Today we have the pleasure of getting to know Donna Puleo with Navigators Encore. Donna is a woman who has deeply walked with God through several decades. She is a woman of faith, hope and love. Donna has a heart to see people come to faith in Christ and shares her life and faith seamlessly. Currently, that is with the people who come into her home, with her family and with people in whom she can invest via technology. Donna is a role model for me in every sense of the word as she lives and ministers from her home, fulfilling her role as caretaker to Andy.


We are excited to get to know you! Go ahead and introduce yourself to our group.

My journey with Christ began in 1971 at the University of Maryland.  I was discipled through The Navigators on campus. There I met my husband Andy. We have 3 sons, 3 daughters-in-law, 7 grandchildren and 1 granddog.  Andy and I served with The Navigators until he retired in 2010 with dementia. I continue on staff for three days a week and help my husband as his caregiver.

I’d love to hear more about your life as a mom. What have you enjoyed about being a mom? 

I loved the ministry, but felt like my whole life led up to being a mom.  I learned in my early training that building into children was a specialized form of discipleship.  Principles I used in discipling were exactly what I needed to train my own children.

Roy Robertson, Navigator patriarch, visited once and described to us how he prayed very specific things into the lives of those he was discipling.  I use this technique even now. Whatever kink there is in the thinking or actions of my loved ones, I address it specifically before the Lord and call Him into the situation.  It’s been pretty powerful. 

In the same way that I enjoyed working with women and seeing spiritual growth in them, so I also delighted in seeing God move in my children.  III John verse 4 has been a very real theme verse for me: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children (physical and spiritual) are walking in the truth.”

Raising our three boys was a platform for me that required all my skills – and then some!  Necessity was definitely the “mother of invention.”  My collection of “hats” was vast and varied: nurse, cook, seamstress, counselor, teacher, pastor, mechanic, playmate, hostess and friend.  

How did you experience your faith grow as you became a mom?

My faith grew as I leaned on God for wisdom and strength.  We lived in the tension between what we wanted for them and the reality of their choices.  That’s not an easy place to live, whether with a 2 year old or a 19 year old! I found quite a challenge in trusting God to work through their wills. But really, doesn’t God also handle us that way? 

A foundational verse we stood on is Ephesians 6:4, “…bring them up (children) in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Nurture is teaching. I didn’t feel that it was just to correct a child about something for which they had never been taught. 

Admonition was warning.  Even if it went in one ear and out the other, I offered the admonition.  There were times a voice in my head said, “Do something” to address an issue. And I did. I sought ways to make the right thing pleasant and the wrong thing painful. I leaned so often on a comment someone once made which was very freeing.  They said, “Every parent is different, every child is different and every family is different. You have to make it work for you.”

It’s next to impossible for mothers of young children to count on a regular quiet time.  It has to be grabbed “on the go.” I used to think of Susanna Wesley. She was a mother of 19 children, including John Wesley the preacher and Charles Wesley the hymnist.  “Among the noise and activity of her many children, Susanna’s trick was to pull her apron over her head- signaling to them and anyone else around that she was in prayer and not to be disturbed.”

What was it like to try and make disciples during the child-rearing years?

Over the years, managing the tension between family and ministry required intentional assessment and changes.  As child raising became more demanding, my responsibilities outside the home decreased. Although I accepted it, I admit to a few times of soul searching to soothe my wounded self esteem.  It was a little lonely, with scattered feelings of isolation and being left out. My life was pretty different from that of a student. 

Many campus ministry activities centered around our home.  This drew me into the lives of the team and contacts. Exposure to great people was one of the most positive influences on our children.  These relationships contributed to their characters and broadened their social skills. The kids still relate to some of those people.

Do you have any other advice for us moms in the collegiate work?

My least favorite thing about child-raising is the letting go.  Once, in a seminar, the speaker said that from birth the goal is to prepare our kids for independence.  All along the way they take step after step away from the total care we provide for them as infants. Finally, the big moment comes when they move away from home.  It is so, so impossibly hard. My sister says, “Why didn’t anyone tell us about this when we had these kids?”  Yet, what is more dysfunctional than a grown person who is still attached to their mother’s apron strings?  So here is another tension we moms have to deal with: the pain of letting go versus the pain of ruining them. 

Parenting is no job for wimps.  The only way I can see to survive it is to be increasingly grounded in Christ through the Word and daily filled with the Spirit. Yep, that’s how much help we need. Because the secret is that the children change us just as much as we change them.  And God is faithful. He loves our kids more than we do. And He loves us. He is in Sovereign control- even if he sometimes allows some hard, hard things to enter our lives. He holds the future for both parents and children. This is an arena where we have to trust Him. 

How can we pray for you?

For strength and wisdom as we face my husband’s end stage disease.  Please pray that the Lord would sustain and lead me in my next step forward.

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