Browsing Category

Special Needs

Boy comforting praying mom
Family, Life, Special Needs

Opening Our Hearts: How the Sorrowful Mother encourages us to reach out to others

“Suffering is a guaranteed part of your journey,” I told my daughter. “There is nothing you can do to prevent it, but you can equip yourself to walk through it with grace. Suffering done with grace becomes a team effort between you, the Holy Spirit and whomever you have brought into that trusted circle. Discern carefully and ask for wisdom.”

Suffering has such a negative connotation and for so many years I longed to not be in the position of a sorrowful mother. Now I embrace these transformative moments. As a mom of eight, and two who were born with a rare neuromuscular disease, I have spent countless hours, days, and weeks in hospitals. I have held my son’s body blistered and bruised after surgery and after casts have come off, his slight frame a feather in my arms. I have stroked my daughter’s hair and held her hand bedside as vital numbers continued to decrease. I have stood at my front door and watched teenagers drive away in anger and frustration, and I have ached for my childrens’ hearts as they suffer heartache and betrayal. It all sounds exhausting, and indeed those moments were, but they were also some of my most cherished and deepest moments of conversion. Choosing to embrace the suffering and allowing it to form us strengthens us to walk forward with courage and firm in our identity as children of God. When we own that identity, we dismiss the lie that we are alone and that our suffering is in vain.

Our Lady of Sorrows Feast Day is approaching, and I have been reflecting on the depth of her sorrow. Consider her seven sorrows given to us: The prophecy of Simeon, The Flight into Egypt, the finding of the child in Jerusalem, Mary Seeing Jesus on the road to Calvary, standing at the foot of the cross, the crucifixion and descent from the cross and assisting in his burial. Even listing them, no mother’s heart can be unaffected by the immensity of these sorrows! I believe this is because we understand the depth of a mother’s love. Either by the gift of being a physical or spiritual mother, or by having received that depth from our own mothers. With Mary as our example, the strength to embrace our crosses comes filled with grace.

The beautiful thing about praying with Mary through her sorrows is that we realize we are not alone in ours. There is a temptation among us to ask for prayers for the minor things but hold tight fisted our inner most fears and worries. Perhaps we think we are protecting our children, husband or whomever is involved in our suffering. Sometimes it is pride. We want to appear that we are holding it all together, portraying an image of a family all buttoned up and perfect. The irony being that none of us are immune to suffering. We can look around and know that sin and suffering are truly rampant and that families can fall under the weight of it all.

Why then do we hide? Did Mary hide her suffering? I often think of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth as a model for discernment of whom to allow into my suffering. After the Annunciation, Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth. I imagine she is going there because she feels within her a calling to confide, to share, to pray together. Elizabeth’s response to this overture is beautiful as God reveals to her the truth of Jesus nestled within the womb of her Cousin Mary by having John, the son within her own womb, leap for joy at her arrival. Jesus also gives his mother and his apostles a model of how to walk through suffering. At the foot of the cross, in the end of his passion, he gives Mary to John and to us all as a mother. Both John and Mother Mary must have had hearts twisted with suffering at watching the crucifixion. My heart drops to my knees at the agony of that moment and yet Jesus does not want them, or us, to walk alone.

Discerning whom to invite into your suffering is a personal decision that must be brought to deep prayer. Sometimes it is the person whom we are walking with in that moment. This can be especially powerful within our own families. I remember a moment where my husband and I were stretched threadbare. We had two children in different hospitals in different states. He was in Philadelphia. I was in Columbus. I left a child at the hospital to take the rest of our family to mass. Many asked how we were doing, and I smiled and thanked them for their prayers. Inside I was falling apart but tightly held my emotions in check. I watched as my children stood likewise, occasionally, reaching out to hold my hand through mass. As we left mass, our parish priest, a dear friend, stopped me and asked if we were ok. I nodded, smiled weakly, gathered my flock, and headed to the car. As I loaded the last child into their car seats and buckles, I closed the door. Placing my hand upon the outside of the van, I inhaled a shuttering and sobbing breath, truly from the depths of my soul. I slowly walked back to that priest. I tugged on his garment like a child. He paused from saying his goodbye’s, turned his full attention to me and I whispered “I am not ok. This is not Okay.” I will never forget his response, for it dramatically transformed my family. He placed both his hands upon my shoulders and in the most firm and fatherly way turned me towards my car. He said, “Then go tell them. For if you don’t tell them, they will forever think you held it together and will never be able to share their suffering.” I slowly walked back to the van, opened the door, and climbed into my seat. The kids could tell I had been crying. I turned around, looked at them honestly as they asked, “Mommy, are you ok?” “No, I said. Mommy is not okay. She is struggling because she is sad and tired and worried.”

I still remember the exhale of breaths from the back seat. It was as if the air of a hundred balloons had been let out. Words and tears flowed like a waterfall. “This is hard.” They said, “I feel scared.” “I miss you when you are gone. Will everything be alright? I miss Daddy.” And, “The dog ate my chicken nuggets at lunch yesterday.” We cried many tears and hugged till our arms hurt in the back of that car. We began again as St. Theresa says. New beginnings are formed with moments like these.

Fast forward seven years later. My nineteen-year-old daughter calls from college and confides her struggles. A son slides onto the couch in my bedroom and tells me he’s not happy. My twelve-year-old, seeks me out, grabs a blanket and cup of tea, setting the stage for an intimate talk, and we all have eyes to see and ears to hear each other’s struggles. We all have found a way to walk together in our suffering. Outside my family, I have learned to let others see both my sorrow and my joy and this has formed deep and abiding friendships.
Bearing witness to the reality of suffering does not mean that we must disclose our innermost pains, but rather that we realize the power of being vulnerable enough to say we need prayer. We release feelings of isolation and loneliness and embrace the truth of being loved and known.

Our Lady of Sorrows feast day is September 15th. May she continue to intercede for us in our suffering and encourage us in our humility and vulnerability.

This article first appeared in The Catholic Times

Photo licensed through Adobe Stock.

Pixabay: Courtesy usa-1669714_1920
Family, Life, Marriage, Parenthood, Reflections, Special Needs

The Importance of Roots

It is early, or late, depending on your perspective. I have held another vigil caring for my family and I am empty. I’ve not slept in my own bed through the whole night in weeks. While grateful for the space in this big home of ours, it feels like I am crashing in different hotel rooms rather than refreshing for the next day. And the days are so unexpected; family who start the day up and falling by mid-day and those crawling downstairs in the morning are ready for popcorn and a family game night by evening. I have had enough of this pandemic. When sickness strikes a family, it can be challenging. When sickness strikes a large family, it can be exhausting. Adding in the needs of those who depend on you to be their hands and legs and provide for their basic needs, and this C.O.O. of Eberhard Inc. is assessing her performance and feeling quite low. I am recognizing that my typically hope filled perspective has changed, and I need to regroup. 

My lenses seem fogged. Things that were once positive and beautiful all seem to reflect my ineptness or neediness as a provider for this family. I see my young children asleep on the couch and not in their beds. Mommy was too tired to so a proper bedtime last night. My son needs a shower. There are finals to help with. Dad was too sick, and Mom was in so many directions, there just wasn’t time. Not to mention, they worry about me; my kids with special needs. They feel like too much work sometimes. I see it and I strive to erase it. For caring for them and loving them has changed me, recreated me, and I love them so very dearly. My older boys, they sit next to me on the couch before bed and ask how I’m holding up. They hold me and I want to break. The image of my sons holding their mother is beautiful and encompasses so many parenting goals of compassion and selflessness. They are growing, and it is beautiful. 

I examine my day and am in wonder at the depth of my children’s love for me. I yelled today, loudly. There was so much chaos after dinner, and someone needed my help immediately and kids were complaining about doing dishes and I lost my patience. For some, this may not be a big deal but for me, yelling is a trigger that I decided long ago to try to avoid. My sweet son, who lights up the days with his curiosity and capriciousness, must have felt like he was in a revolving door, how many times I called his name. Sometimes for help, sometimes in frustration. Reflectively I see that the frustration was more my inability to control this environment than his inability to focus on the task at hand. I dislike yelling. To me it signifies a lack of self-control and patience, virtues I value greatly. And yet they love me. They tuck me in. They come down to check on me. “Mom, Christmas will take care of itself.” “Mom, how can I help?” “Mom, Let me help you wrap presents.” “Mom, I love you.” “Momma, you look like you need a snuggle.” Each one in their own way reaching out in love and service.

We talk often of roots in my family. When we are challenged by a person, my response is to remember the roots of that person. Whom do you know them to be? My hope is that they remember that that brings us all back to our creation in the image and likeness of God. But more realistically, it is that they look for an act of kindness or particular strength within that person. Sometimes however, they need to look for the roots to avoid a relationship. It works both ways. 

Tonight, or this morning, again depending on the frame of mind and how late my family sleeps, I am choosing to look at the roots of myself. When self-doubt creeps in like a thief to steal my joy, when the worry and comparison pile on like a cloak too heavy to carry, I am filling my well with my own counsel. I am looking to my roots. Who do I know myself to be? From these roots has stemmed a beautiful marriage filled with romance, laughter, joy, service and wrapped with a shroud of holiness and peace that is not of our own making, but rather a protection and gift from the Lord. From these roots has stemmed our children. Nine beautiful souls, eight here on Earth, who truly see and serve one another. They live mercy because it has been modeled to them. They seek mercy because they have felt its healing touch. They sing, dance, read, play, and pray because it has been modeled for them. They love through mistakes, even mine, because I have loved them through theirs. Your story begins and ends with mercy is a mantra throughout our home. Mercy runs deep in their roots as it has nurtured the soil of our family for years.  I am reminded of a trip to the Redwood forests in California I once made. I stood amid the trees, in awe of their majesty, and realized that beneath y feet grew the same depth of majesty. Roots that have weathered storms, earthquakes and have blowing peacefully on a Spring afternoon. Regardless of the season, those roots stood strong and anchored that tree in its purpose. Thank you, Jesus, for being the anchor to my roots and holding me steady during the storms. 

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.”