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marybeth

Family, Life, Marriage, Parenthood, Reflections

The Father’s Love

Every morning when my children come down the stairs; my younger ones carrying a blanket or stuffed animal and my older ones searching for their first cup of coffee, I make an effort to stop what I am doing and reach out to them physically and emotionally. I embrace them. With this daily action, I look into their eyes and whether exhausted or busy, I stop and force my eyes to meet theirs. I call Christ forefront into this exchange and I feel the softening. My eyes crinkle just thinking of it and my lips lift into a smile. I speak truth and love into their hearts, every morning. I look for ways to do this throughout the day as well. I ask them how I can bless them. I go and sit upon a bed, ignoring the soda cans and popcorn bowl and listen. I swing on a hammock and listen about the colors of the rainbow within the horizon.  I sit upon a swing and let my body relax into the moment with a son who has a story to tell.  A ministry of presence is paramount in building relationships in my home. 

I look forward to my mornings. Rolling over and seeing my husband beside me, I am in awe of the blessing he is to us all. Sensing my presence, he will sleepily open an eye, reach out and roll me into his embrace. We murmur morning prayers of thanksgiving and start our day. This continues throughout the day as my husband works from home and our witness of connecting with each other manifests itself in how our children seek to engage with us and with each other. My children seek me out in the morning if I miss their entrance. This routine of connecting has become necessary and beloved. It has extended itself to our evenings as well and even while away, they call or text to connect; every night. Some mornings or bedtimes can seem like the never ending sign of peace in my home as hugs are given, small siblings snuggle into bigger sibling’s laps. Older siblings have established their rituals as well but they all seek an encounter with the other. 

I often think of the gaze of the father upon us. Our Father in Heaven who ever more so seeks to engage and connect with us. The image of the joy upon the father of the prodigal son from the book of Luke Chapter 15 comes to mind. I can see this father’s eyes light up upon seeing his son. I can feel his smile spread wide as he runs to greet his lost son. I can feel the gratitude within his soul, and I believe ever more so, this is the love the Lord has for us. With just the tilt of our head and heart we have the ability to reconnect to the father countless times a day and there He is ready to run; his face filled with joy that we have turned to Him. Sometimes I find myself on my knees where the physical act of lifting my head can seem too much. From that place, I lift my heart to my Father and he is there, engaged and ready to carry me. In other moments, I am watching something beautiful, whether it be a tender family moment or a sunrise that brings forth the day, and I lift my soul to Him in recognition of the gift of this moment and we connect.  

            In his book, Abba Father, Finding our way back to the Father’s Heart, by Neil and Mathew Lozano, we are reminded of the privilege of calling God, our Father. “When Jesus teaches us to address God, as Father, [in the Lord’s Prayer] He is inviting us into a relationship with the Father based on trust, confidence and the openness to ask.” Reflecting back on the prodigal son, it is exactly these virtues that the father has instilled in his relationship with the prodigal son that allow his son to come back. Our Lord has paid into these virtues with His relationship with us by his precious body and blood. Luke 11:9 tells us “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  We must have faith that Lord is actively waiting for us to call out and seek Him. 

            Jesus’s whole ministry here on Earth was a manual on how to build authentic relationships that call us back to The Father’s heart through a ministry of presence. It is easy to let the distractions and preoccupations of this world steal us from this necessity but scripture reminds us to “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel. – Joshua 24:23 The Lord is present for us in all the countless moments throughout our days and all we need to do is incline our hearts to Him; and he calms every storm, wipes every tear, and celebrates every little victory. As we actively invite Jesus into these moments, we see it all through His lenses. This rose colored view shows us we are not alone and regardless of the content of the situation in which we are seeking Him out, like the Father in Luke’s gospel, our Father’s eyes light up, they glisten and he runs to meet us. The embrace of the Father is unlike any other. 

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Death Does not Make Me Sad

Photo: Elizabeth Eberhard

I have a confession to make. Death does not make me sad. This is a change I’ve noticed in myself as I’ve grown older. The deeper I grow in my relationship with Jesus, the more I notice changes like this. I have faced the proximity of death in many ways in my forty-four years of life; from close encounters with my children to my own health scares. I have grown, been strengthened and changed by its proximity in every encounter. As I have pondered my lack of sadness, I often wonder if I am lacking in some human emotion that others have been granted. I find myself pondering at funerals; wondering at the person’s encounter with Jesus, the angels, and the Saints. Can they hear in purgatory the choirs singing from Heaven? Does the choir draw them upward? Are their hearts lightened of the burdens of this world? Are they at peace?

I am up this evening pondering this because death is knocking again at the door of my family. I received news this week that my mother is dying, and I once again found myself surprised that I am not sad, but rather reflective. I grew up listening to country songs of Jesus and the angels. My mom would play them very loudly and if I learned the song well enough, she’d let me attach the little microphone to the radio and sing along. Over the years, my mother has collected angels that might rival the heavenly courts, or maybe she is trying to replicate it; I am not sure. I do know, however, that my mom knows Jesus. Regardless of the scars inside and out that both she and I carry from our time together, this I am certain. My momma knows who Jesus is and that is sweet comfort indeed. That means to my heart, that no matter how long it takes she is going to Heaven. It means that one day I will get that long-awaited embrace with my mother that I crave. It means that we will one day be reconnected and healed, and death only brings us closer to that realization! I have the privilege of an amazing younger sister whose strength, love, and dedication have been a lifeline through these past years.  She longs for everything to be put together and well. We all do. My gift to her is this glimpse that one day, with the help of Jesus, all the messiness will be wiped away. Everything we could not fix here in life, if we keep our hearts aligned with the heart of Jesus, He will make well in Heaven and that life is eternal. This is such solace and comfort!

I have shared glimpses of my childhood, journey and parenting. No one’s life is as it appears in a snapshot, social media image.  We all carry wounds either physically or emotionally.  I have found it an interesting thought that scar tissue can attach itself to the bone; limiting and sometimes restricting movement. From a spiritual standpoint, I find that thought-provoking. When my son or daughter have had one of their surgeries, the protocol is to always rub at that scar to keep it from attaching. It is necessary to break down the sensitivity to it. Physical therapists have told me that it is possible to break up the tissue into smaller parts so that it does not adhere. We all have scars from the choices we have made and from events we have experienced. Perhaps a little spiritual rubbing is necessary in our lives. For me the practical application of this rubbing looks like a continued giving of my relationship with my mother to Jesus. I say yes to the Lord’s promptings in prayer and in action.  I have tried to make this relationship well and I am unable to do so, but I know the Lord can and will either here on Earth or in Heaven. I trust in this. He gave me this mother for a reason and she is his daughter as much as she is my mother. I give this struggle to him and then I pick it back up and this process continues day in and day out as I wrestle with my desire to make all things well. But in the quiet, which is where I sit right now, the truth speaks. In Revelations 21:5, we hear the words spoken “Behold, I am making all things new.” As my son went off to be a missionary this year, he struggled with a great feeling of unworthiness. The director of the program wrote him and his words resonated within my soul. “We know who and what we are getting and we said yes knowing and wanting all of you.” Jesus speaks that to our hearts from the cross. He died for us and he calls to us knowing who we are and wanting all of us. And so I am not saddened by death but rather I rejoice in the glory of what is to come; for me, for those I love, and for all whose hope is in the Lord. 

Family, Life, Marriage, Parenthood, Reflections, Special Needs

The Land of If Only

The slippery slope of comparing our lives robs us of the beauty of the suffering moment.

I’m wishing upon a star tonight. Leaning on the edge of my deck looking into the bright country sky where God displays his artistry, I sense his presence. Perhaps it’s not a star I’m wishing on, but rather a door I’m knocking upon. I often do that in prayer. I visualize my encounter with God. Tonight I’m knocking. It’s an unexpected visit. I hadn’t intended to go out in the crisp night air and pray, but just as I suddenly break into conversation with my husband, I felt the need to just start conversing with my Lord. 

            Today has been a full day. Every person within this large family of mine has needed me in big and small ways. From drinks of water to close the door and can I talk to you serious conversations, the onslaught of need was intense today and all the while I felt as if I couldn’t keep up. 

As a mom of many and adding in the special needs of my family, life is very fast paced and fluid. We have physical, occupational, assistive technology and aqua therapy. We have speech and sensory challenges. We have counseling and durable medical equipment appointments. I am constantly checking skin breakdown and bones are brittle around here. I am Chief Operating Officer of Eberhard Inc. and it can be a daunting job indeed. When you add in the schoolwork, outside activities and our commitment to place our church activities first, one outburst or unplanned trip to Urgent Care has the potential to throw the day into a tailspin.

My younger son recently broke his arm and the turn around time to the car was less than 7 minutes. My kids know this drill and executed the plan flawlessly. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to wallow in the what ifs. It’s ever so much harder to accept what is and take the next step forward. A friend once referred to this danger zone of comparison as the Land Of If Only. If only I had a smaller family. If only I didn’t have kids with special needs. If only we had this or that. Comparison is the thief of joy says Teddy Roosevelt and I wholeheartedly agree. The slippery slope of comparing our lives to the lives of anyone else robs us of the beauty of the suffering moment. Some of my most powerful encounters with Jesus are in my suffering and surrendered moments, on my knees in my room by my crucifix or kneeling in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by our family altar. This is where Jesus heals me constantly. He heals my feelings of inadequacy. He heals my self doubt. He fills my heart with His grace like I fill my car with fuel.

            I am so gifted to know who I am and whose I am.  My creator and redeemer stand by my side with every breath and from that realization I draw my strength. God promises us enough manna for today;  and from that truth, we need to draw our strength and comfort. In our home, when momma looks overwhelmed and maybe a little teary-eyed; actually if anyone in our family feels this way, we call them moments. If you are overwhelmed, have lost your self-control, or made the wrong choice, it is just a moment; and our days are filled with moments; good and bad. Let our hearts be led by mercy; for others and for ourselves. 

            Traveling to the Land of If Only is not a mental vacation spot I advise.  Instead, I draw strength from the realization that as a mom of this incredible family of mine, God has revealed His plan for my path to heaven. I am sanctified in every “moment” by my “Yes Lord!” and my “More, Lord” (Both of which some of my children now call out loudly when things go a bit haywire.. I think they are a wee bit mocking me, but we plant seeds as parents right?) These are our fiats and the consistent reminder that by disciplining our minds and hearts to live in The Land That Is and see its transformative beauty, we can enter the gates of What Will Be with trusting hearts and the assurance of hearing the beautiful affirmation from Mathew 25:23 “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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Behold How They Love One Another

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2013), CC0/PD

Early Christians were made recognizable by their actions. Aristedes, sent by Emperor Hadrian during the days of the early Church to scope out those known as “Christians,” gave a report and these ending words have stood the test of time. “Behold, how they love one another.”

I love my Bible. The sense of belonging, understanding, mercy, comfort, and love it brings me has no parallel. It is a love story that provides unending hope. In it, we are reminded of the steadfast love of our God. He is our constant companion. There really is nothing that we need that He will not provide. We wait with an expectant heart. For us, God is also a Father who loves to bless. Let us not forget this in times that may seem challenging.

Like a parent who picks up the extra treat at the grocery store or who puts gas in her son’s car, the Lord is this type of parent to us as well. We simply must look for His blessings. We also must trust that as for our ancestors before us, God’s plan for us is always better than what we can imagine.

We all can look at our life and see times of trials and crises where we struggled and felt tested. There is a temptation to allow ourselves to feel distant from God or abandoned by him, but that is very far from our reality. We must look back and see how the Lord was with us and how we were changed from those experiences. The situation we find ourselves in today is not new. The threat of this current health crisis can make fear, anxiety, and worry dictate people’s actions. It is an unknown time of wanting to provide and protect our own families. We are being asked to distance ourselves physically from others as a way to prevent the spread of this virus.

Social distancing is by definition isolating and fear feeds that emotion. The challenge again is to look and see how our Father is working in these times. With eyes to see Him, we see Mass and group prayer being live-streamed. We see families drawing closer, playing games, sharing meals, and praying. Candles are being lit in windows as communities join in prayer. Entire industries are responding in ways to unite people. Individuals are pondering their gifts and humbly sharing them, from posting songs on their social media to poems, letters of encouragement, and selfless acts of kindness to others. The Lord is using this situation as an opportunity for us to respond in grace.

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The truth of our history is that God is always giving us opportunities to become more of the people He created us to be. The Christian paradox is that even in times of trial and tribulation, the Lord is blessing and forming His people. We see this numerous times in Scripture. Consider 2 Corinthians 9:8:

Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

How many times in my struggles have I, on my knees, cried out to the Lord how hard it is to be a Christian and He reminds me that being a Christian is not supposed to be an easy task but rather a leap of great faith. But our Father wants us to have a big and deep faith, a faith that covers all our worries and fears in a blanket of security and trust in Him.

In Philippians 4:6, we see St. Paul offering that same relationship with Jesus.

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.

So let us cry out to God in prayer and petitions. Let us turn to him with expectant hearts that we will be refined and our relationship with him made deeper through these times. But let us take this faith we profess and use it in all the means we have available to us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. For as the old hymn says “ They will know we are Christians by our love.”

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Stop setting the table

Published in the Catholic Times, March 1st, 2020

Through prayer, I have been convicted to pray hard and let that be my doing.

With Mary as our example, pray and then trust in the Lord.

The prayer of a mother runs like a constant flow between her heart and the Lord. Like blood streaming through the ventricles of the heart, so does a mother’s prayer connect her to the heart of Jesus. It’s a deep and profound prayer – one of surrender and supplication. We ask not for ourselves but for His will in the lives of those we love. Because we are in a constant relationship with the Lord and we feel the freedom that brings, we so desperately want others to know the Lord, especially our family. And yet sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes they run from Him. If they’ve been raised in His light, they might have eyes to see or ears to hear, but a heart that is closed, frightened or wounded by the temptations and worries of this world. They might know that a “Yes” to the Lord requires a change. Has any “Yes” to Him ever kept things unchanged? With Abraham, Peter and Paul as examples, I might not even have the same name by the time Jesus is done with me!

I often ponder how deep Mary’s prayer life must have been. As gruesome as the crucifixion was, there must have been the temptation for deep worry. The late-night mothering of an older child brings me to this reflection often. Throughout the entirety of Jesus’ life, Mary was there beside him. She ushered him into ministry and was with him to the last. Yet she pondered so much in her heart.

We read the word “ponder” frequently in Scrip- ture. The thesaurus shows “meditate” and “reflect” as its most frequently used synonyms. Ponder, meditate and reflect. This is the breath of a mother’s prayer life, even in the fast pace of everyday life. There are times when , like the major negotiator, communicator, organizer and relationship builder that I try to be, I try to control a situation. I believe I am doing God’s will by moving pieces in a fashion that I think will make for the best outcome for what God desires. I try to set the stage for him to work! I imagine the Lord sitting next to me with his head to the side, one eyebrow raised, silently asking me if I am done yet.

Seeing that I am clearly unable to turn off this mission of mine, he waits patiently for moments, days, sometimes years, until I finally surrender and say “I can’t do this. I can’t solve this. Will you please help me?” He swiftly answers, “Of course; I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

It is in that surrender as a mother where we lay out our heart’s desire for those we love; where we pray boldly and trust greatly, that we regain the true freedom of being in a relationship with the Lord. Through prayer, I have been convicted to pray hard and let that be my doing. This is so hard for us mothers. And yet we have been given such an example!

My family is in the middle of so many possibilities and choices for our older children right now, and I am challenging myself to pray fervently to the Lord for Him to light, to guide, whisper, shout and make clear the next steps for them. With a thankful heart, I am praising Him for the gift of being a mother and the treasures of these children. I am asking for the fortitude to stay constant in prayer and let that fulfill my tendency to do.

This is not a test for the Lord to see if things will go my way, but rather it is a test for me to learn to grow in prayer and trust. I am laying down my way. Padre Pio is known for his simple breath of a prayer, “Pray, and don’t worry.” May we all learn to trust in this way.

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Survival

Image credit: Pixabay.com (2017), CC0/PD

It’s been almost 72 hours since I dropped him off at the airport and we are all still alive. Survival is necessary. Patience is prudent and a good dose of humility never hurts the cause! I made myself a goal of keeping my patience this time around. As much as I miss my husband when he travels, I try to embrace these times as opportunities to form a new habit or fix a vice; emphasis on try. I usually get through it with a few good laughs and a strong sense of gratitude for God’s mercy and his sense of humor.

This time around, I am trying to appreciate my teenage daughter’s goofiness. I struggle with this as I am task-oriented, efficient and a lover of deep conversation. She is a burst of sass with a twinkle in her eye. She is particular to strange details and can belt out a giddy version of the latest pop song in the middle of my helping her get dressed.

I am sensitive. She lets it all roll down her back. I get ruffled. She is calm. But this time, I am embracing our differences and giving myself the challenge to grow our relationship while growing in virtue. I am also attempting to keep my patience with all my children while being deprived of sleep.

Here is where I stand so far: 72 hours in, 16 days to go, and we are all still smiling. A few expected practical jokes, a couple of reminders for older teens; I have nursed a child’s stomachache, bandaged a knee from a newly inaugurated bicycle rider, and made sure my children were bathed and attended Mass. I have taken them to sports practices, co-ops, classes, and a few doctor’s appointments.

Humility and dying to self are both necessary and yet can be overused to the detriment of the beauty of their purpose. Laughter is the necessary ingredient here. Let me explain. The other night, I took my twelfth trip up the stairs to help my son who just had spine surgery get comfortable. I was and still am exhausted. I groaned as I got out of bed, pleading with the Lord to be my strength and I trudged up the stairs, somehow avoiding the cat throw-up on the landing. I went to his bedside and helped move him to his other side, itched a shoulder, moved a blanket, got a drink of water, all the while moderating my thoughts in my head and making sure none of my impatience was coming out of my mouth. “Of course I can scratch that for you. Thirtsy? Yes, I will get that water for you.”

If you had heard what I was thinking, I would seem more human, I think. “How many times do you need me to roll you over? Did I not just get you a drink? If you call me one more time … my humanity is weak … and yet I made it through! Charity won out!

As I walked down the stairs slowly, thanking the Lord for the grace to be patient and kind, I felt my foot step on something cold. The cat had gotten sick again on the landing and I stepped in it. As I stood there for a moment, contemplating this, I looked at the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary images that are enthroned upon my walls as I went down the last flight of stairs. I sank upon the stairs, dangling my now cold, gross foot over the edge of the stairs, shaking my head at the Lord with an incredulous smile on my face. I asked him with an eyebrow raised, “What was I to learn from this moment?” Nothing. Radio silent, as a friend calls it. I chuckled to myself, said a quick thank you and hobbled to go wash my feet.

Embracing real life brings about real virtue. I look back and think I could have just lost it and cried myself to sleep; except of course I don’t get to sleep. I could have felt sorry for myself and resentful. Instead, I chose to see the irony, laugh at the moment and move on; trusting that Momma Mary brings even my offering of how I handle the bedtime cat moment and somehow makes it beautiful for the Lord. I’m sure he sees the beauty in it but mothers — they arrange it all so much better. I climbed into my bed, now somehow piled with little amigos and snuggled in till the next call. Satan lost one that time.

We have 16 more days to go. 16 days to more days to grow in virtue. 16 days to offer up sacrifices and work towards loving one another more authentically. Our goals don’t end there, but we are all more intentional and focused at this time because the need is so high. It’s “sink or swim” time here in the Eberhard home. Some are getting their goggles. Some are getting their life jackets and some their floaties. Either way, we are keeping our heads above water and our eyes on Jesus.

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The Little Ways

This article is a follow up to the article More Love

It’s early and I am up again moving my son’s sore and tired body. This surgery is hard to heal from. The body takes time to recognize a new shape. Time truly does heal. In the meantime, my husband and I wander back and forth like strangers in the night, rotating his body and trying to keep him comfortable.  I remember telling him this surgery was necessary and that I would walk through it with him. Even in the exhaustion, I need to honor my words. God always provides.

I have been reflecting a great deal on God’s provision lately; the Respect Life cause, specifically. I see many examples of holy families who dedicate their lives to this crucial cause. Families pray outside abortion clinics or fund a bus filled with the latest ultrasound equipment so that a young mother can hear her baby’s heartbeat. These acts of mercy are ever so important and necessary.  However, in the spirit of St. Therese, I am all about the little ways we can live out being pro-life.

When Gabriel was born, and I sat in the NICU rocking him night after night, I remember a two am tap on the shoulder as I rocked him to sleep. A dear friend had driven his motorcycle to the hospital and come to take a shift singing and rocking so I could get some much-needed sleep. His act of mercy still in my heart stands as a testament to his character. Throughout the years, friends and strangers have mailed checks, helped pay for flights, cleaned our home, watched our children, dropped off a meal, dropped off care packages for the kids, mowed our grass and even put together Christmas for us while we were traveling home from the hospital close to Christmas eve!  All these tasks were done out of the goodness within their hearts. They thought of my family and came and did a small good deed. That good deed sent ripples through the hearts of my children. They now seek to go and do the same. “Momma, can we just stop by? Momma, Could we grab a gift card for them? Momma, I’m just going to go help; she looked tired after mass.” The support for a family who faces a difficult pregnancy or special needs child, or any life issue shouldn’t stop with a meal when that baby is born but rather the true need comes when that family is living their yes to the Lord. 

Our family has been privileged to be involved in many organizations that see the need to support the whole family through the life of raising children with special needs. A Kid Again is an example. They plan monthly adventures for the whole family. It is incredible how necessary but unthought-of a trip to Magic Mountain or a Clippers Game is to constantly stay connected as a family and step outside of the medical need. I wonder if there is such an organization for single moms who are facing the everyday struggle of raising a child on their own. To know they are supported and to be given an opportunity to step outside the worry is life-changing. Living pro-life for me is having eyes to see that life indeed does start at conception but the act of walking that new path with that new life needs continuous support. Like a garden that gets watered throughout the hot weather, the one that gets a dose of extra plant food every now and then not only thrives but also blossoms. Think of the bouquets we are building up in heaven by our efforts here on Earth. Lord, please place before my heart those whom you know need a vision of your love on Earth and help me to be a witness of your gentle love. Amen.

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More Love

Published in the Catholic Times, October, 6th 2019

We didn’t expect for it to end up this way. Twenty-two years, eight children, and a life lived so deeply that the everyday beauty and suffering of it is at times both blinding and brilliant. We met as college sweethearts. I knew from the moment we met that this was the man God had saved for me to love and be loved by. We planned on two children, maybe three. We moved back home after the birth of our first son. Our second arrived two years later and then our third was on the way about eighteen months after that. Everything about that third pregnancy felt different. We were sure the baby was a girl and, not having any concerns previously, there was no need for extra scans. I went into labor four weeks early and no one was concerned. The doctor said, “come on in, it’s a great day to have a baby!” We knew the baby was breech so we were prepared for another C-section.

The moment the room changed, I knew something was wrong. I could feel it. “Boy or girl?” I kept asking. My husband sunk to the floor and a nurse put a wet towel across his forehead. I remember laughing, thinking two births and now this is going to make you squeamish? “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry,” were the first words spoken to me by the doctor. We were told our baby was paralyzed. His legs twisted behind his neck and his spine folded where his ear was touching his hip. He had no movement. Teams of doctors and nurses rushed in. He needed to be transported. Before they left, I remember asking one more time, “Boy or girl?” We gave birth to a son.

Our son was born with a rare neuromuscular condition, arthrogryposis, which causes contractures of the joints and atrophy of the muscles. Thirteen years later and after thirty-seven surgeries and procedures across many state borders, we have just finished his last surgery. He now sits up straight in his power wheelchair, functions as a typical thirteen-year-old young man who just needs help with some daily tasks. When Gabriel was born, I remember worrying about my older boys and a wise friend counseled me, They will be better men for it.” And indeed they are.

During those thirteen years, the Lord blessed us with twin girls, one of whom is in heaven and one who sits by my side as I type this essay. Then came my Joseph who was born right before we moved out of state for Gabriel’s care. I received a call from a friend just a couple of weeks after we had moved. She said, I know you have much going on right now, but a mutual friend is adopting a little boy from one of Mother Teresa’s homes in Armenia and there is an eight-year-old girl there who has arthrogryposis. Would you consider adopting her? In all humility, I just had a baby, moved and was walking into another surgery. Adopting another child with special needs was not on my radar! I remember thinking, “what kind of friend are you?”  But I promised I would take it to my husband and we would pray. My husband immediately opened his heart and reminded me of our promise to the Lord that should another child like Gabriel come across our door, we would be open because we knew now how to help. Two years later, (and 2 more children later,) Elizabeth joined our family. Our last pregnancy was very high risk and we were able to move back to Columbus to give birth to our daughter. With my life, our baby’s life, and an adopted child who was due to come home in just a couple weeks on the line, to say we placed our life at the foot of the cross is no exaggeration. My husband looked at me and our eyes welled up with all the possibilities.  Our doctor is a holy man whose eyes glistened with joy every time he lifted one of my babies into the air. We were in good hands.

My children do not treat each other any differently than they treat others. Occasionally I will even hear an incredulous, “Just because Gabe and Liz have arthrogryposis doesn’t mean they don’t have to do the dishes.” We have raised our children with the notion that everyone has some type of disability; some you see, some you don’t. We all have struggles. I pray that they all have eyes and hearts open to see life through this lens.

The “how do you do it?” or the “you must be a saint.” comments no longer shake me. They make me smile. The reality is having many children doesn’t make me better than any other mother. Each child in our family has always been spoken of as an addition of more love. Love doesn’t divide. Love multiples exponentially. I know that my marriage has been blessed by the love of these sons and daughters, but more so I know that their hearts have been formed closer to one another through this shared journey. Based on their everyday fiats, they are well on their way to becoming better humans.

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This kind of school is new to us all

It is an odd time in our history as a country when all of our children are being led back to the home to educate. Families are experiencing mixed emotions as they enter into new territory in the middle of a school year. For many, schedules have been shuffled, anxiety and panic are escalating and the joy of learning for the pursuit of knowledge and formation of character goes out the window amid the desire to just get it all done. As a teacher and homeschool mom, I have watched these past couple weeks as social media has become flooded with complaints and comparisons. With a gentle heart, I’d like to step in and offer an alternative viewpoint and some strategies for helping navigate this unknown time.

First, recognize the time we are in. Our children, no matter the age, sense the sudden change. The fear of the unknown can be a heavier burden than the reality, even if the reality is grave. Taking time to sit down as a family and talk about why school has changed and why it is important to take these health precautions can help alleviate some of the worries and also provide a sense of family unity towards this common goal. We are all in this together. Everyone is being asked to make sacrifices. As a firm believer in holding kids to high standards, even the youngest child can rise and join the family in the new normal.

Make a family plan. Set expectations for school. Treating this moment as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience can help build character within us and our children. For instance, if you have a teenager who has been distracted in school, meeting with them and taking the time to build up their skills and helping them set up goals for learning builds up your relationship with each other as well as allowing them the independence to demonstrate accountability and build trust. In our home, it is said often that trust is built over time. Schooling at home can help build that.

Appreciate this time with your younger children.  There is so much going on in the mind of a young child; the desire to create and wonder, to explore and discuss. While curriculum is important and can be a tool to help guide this, remember that the time spent learning together is just as important as the knowledge being acquired. Keeping a journal, taking pictures of your learning together, reading books together, sharing what has been learned at the family table are great ways for your younger ones to feel involved. 

Be careful with the words we use.  The dignity of a human, no matter the age, will always grow stronger with affirmation. Choose words that present the schooling at home situation as an opportunity rather than a “catholic mom chain” around one’s neck. Do not demean yourself or your children with jokes that belittle them or your ability.  See this time at home as a gift to grow relationships within the family. Our lives run at such a hectic pace that the opportunity of time can cause panic. What do we do? Rest, laugh, go outside, read, play games, talk, listen, share time and space with each other and smile. It is amazing what an offering of a smile can be in many situations!

Trust yourself. It is being said that we are all in this situation together and indeed we are but no one situation is the same. As a homeschooling mom, our schedule has been drastically changed as outside classes, sports, music lessons, activities, and work schedules have all been altered. There is much to adjust to for us all yet seeing the opportunities within the current situation can help keep our perspective positive. This type of schooling, whether a veteran homeschool parent or one who is new to schooling at home, is not an optimal version for any of us. This is a historic time where virtue can rise and families grow stronger. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” What an opportunity! what fresh beginnings we are being gifted with!

On a side note, so many resources are being offered right now to help support parents and children who are educating at home. From illustrators offering daily art classes to online support for geometry and physics, one cannot scroll social media feed and not be overwhelmed. While all these resources are helpful and can support the learning in the home, they are not necessary. It is so easy to be overwhelmed and compare how we are “doing school” to other families. It has been said that “Comparison is the thief of joy” and that is so true in these times. One does not look at one’s neighbor and say “Oh, that is how we should be setting our table. Or that is how we should dress or mow or plant our garden or raise our children. Rather through prayerful discernment, we structure our family in a fashion that supports our family values. Trusting your ability to help facilitate learning in the home will help decrease the stress level immensely.

Love of learning comes by having an environment where we are being supported, challenged, and where a love of knowledge is being modeled. So, pick up a book, take up a new skill from that bucket list and show that learning is a lifelong skill. You might be surprised by the comradery that develops with your new students while you learn at home.

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How to Prepare for the Virtual Mass as a Family

As Catholics around the world move to celebrate mass virtually during this unusual health crisis,  many families are seeking ways to bring the sacred into the home. As a mom of many, the challenge of gathering everyone in one room on their best behavior to participate in mass is real. Kids don’t sense the need to “be ready” for mass as the living room has been such a sense of comfort and relaxation. It is where we gather to decompress from the day of hard work but in these times it must serve two purposes. As a parent, I find myself continually setting the stage for my family to be successful. In times like these, we must also set the stage for our family to stay nourished in faith. We have been privileged to have a mass said in our home a few times when we had visiting priests so preparing for virtual mass was similar. When it comes to celebrating mass at home or virtually here are some of our family’s traditions along with some recommended by Father Dave Sizemore from St. Francis de Sales Parish in Newark, Ohio.

  1. Clear any clutter out of the room so it feels ready. For us, that means all our school books, clothing, toys, remote controls, etc. The table is wiped down and a tablecloth is placed upon it.
  2. Create a family altar. Ask every family member to gather their favorite prayer cards, holy medals, statues, and candles. I love when we have this opportunity because objects from my older kid’s youth: a little Franciscan cross, a favorite prayer card, a first communion statue and other holy objects to remind us of the church are placed upon our family altar. My youngest daughter received white roses from her father on her first Reconciliation which she dried and also places on our family altar.
  3. Have holy water in a bowl so family members can bless themselves as they enter. It reminds us of the sacredness of the moment in which we are going to be sharing.
  4. Put a crucifix in the room if there is not one.
  5. Have your bibles marked with the readings for the day or print up the readings for the mass so everyone can follow along. If your parish posts the music online, then have it available. Giving everyone the tools to participate is essential in making mass accessible whether in person or virtually.
  6. Encourage family members to change out of their pajamas.  In an attempt to remind everyone of the sacredness of the mass, we ask that pajamas not be worn and day clothes be put on.
  7. Offer your mass for someone. In our parish, we begin mass by turning to our neighbor and asking them for their prayer intention. When celebrating mass virtually we are able to ask our family members for their intentions as well as thinking of those intentions we hold in our hearts and offer our mass for them.
  8. Make a spiritual communion. One of the hardest things when celebrating mass is the longing for Jesus in the Eucharist. The longing is a beautiful thing and draws our hearts closer to Jesus. As Catholic Christians, we can make a spiritual communion during the time the priest is receiving Jesus by saying this prayer. “My Jesus, I believe that You are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I long for You in my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though You have already come, I embrace You and unite myself entirely to You; never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.”
  9. Have donuts, coffee and juice ready for after mass. The social aspect of gathering together after mass is a way for us to check in with friends after mass. When celebrating mass virtually, we place the donuts, drinks, and plates on the table in the other room. There is even a mad dash by our younger kids for donuts after the last verse of the song is sung.

 As a final note, and as a mother of eight children, I think it is really important to take time to breathe in the fact that your family is gathering within the walls of your home to worship the Lord. How many Christians before us have had to do this in secret on fear of persecution and death? See the seeds of faith you are planting and take the time that has been given to us in this period of social distancing and staying at home to water and nourish them. There is no greater gift we can give our family than the gift of family rooted in Christ.