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The Difference Between Hospitality and Entertaining

It’s that time of year again for our family; the season when we use this home God has given us to welcome in new and old friends. We enfold them into the mantle of our family life and invite them to walk alongside us in whatever stage they find us. Fall seems to bring about open doors, and open hearts in this family when it comes to our home. Over the years, I have learned the important distinction between hospitality and entertaining. Entertaining seeks only to impress whereas hospitality seeks to welcome. We welcome in others and treat them as family, inviting them to join the chopping of the veggies for the meal or the matching of socks with you while you sit in conversation on the couch. 

Hospitality translates from the Greek, philoxenia, as love for the stranger. In early Christian times, hospitality referred to the act of assisting one or more travelers for a short period of time. Deemed a fundamental moral practice and radically equal in its attempt to serve both rich and poor, early Christian hospitality sought to imitate Christ in its outreach to all. No one is above the other — not the giver or the receiver. This humility and gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon both is a virtue honed through service to the other. The Catholic Christian needs to know that opening their home should be like opening a window of their heart. We need to strive for vulnerability instead of recognition and from that all virtue and charity can flow. 

I think people long for community. We were created for family and community. Being vulnerable enough to welcome someone as family immediately breaks down walls of comparison or unease and sets a tone of fellowship and ease. There is also something incarnate in us all that relaxes at the opportunity to break bread together. I try to always brew a pot of tea and take some muffins or cookies from our freezer to share when someone comes over. An extra plate is always available for “Elijah” at our table. As someone enters, the message is “Here, let me serve you and give your soul rest”. I am often left smiling and shaking my head in wonder when our guests tell us how relaxed they feel in our home of eight children three dogs, including a new puppy, two cats and a partridge in a pear tree. There is something here in the aspect of serving one another that is reminiscent of our roots as a people of community. 

I have some very fond memories of living this style of life. We frequently host seminarians from the Pontifical Josephinum, which is near our home. One such night, our parish priest joined us for dinner with about twelve seminarians. These men arrived and because I have eight children and we live a very full life, dinner was not quite ready. These young men helped chop peppers, play with younger kids, and set the table. They made themselves at home, grabbed a drink, and made a fire for the living room. As they worked alongside members of my family, relationships grew. We shared a wonderful meal together and ate dessert gathered by the fire. As bedtime approached, my husband and I excused ourselves and began our bedtime routine. I heard our parish priest suggest to the men that they do the dishes for us. As they did the dishes, my children overheard them praying evening prayer and the Salve Regina being sung. This glimpse of sacred mixed with the ordinary was a beautiful witness to my children; making the notion of work and play an everyday occurrence. 

In this period where we have lost a sense of connecting with the other, I am reminded of the call by Saint John Paul II to “Open wide the doors for Christ”. As we approach a season of gathering as friends and family more formally, may we remember our roots of hospitality and welcome in all who seek, crave and truly need that which we can so easily share.  

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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. 

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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.

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Lenten Family Traditions in the Home

Living liturgically gives a rhythm to the daily life of a catholic family. It is no mistake that mother nature corresponds her seasons to that of the church. I love the peaceful anticipation of Advent and the white calming snow that accompanies it. Just as necessary is the rain and grey skies of Lent while looking forward to green grass and blooming flowers of an Eastertide. As a mom of many, tying traditions to these liturgical seasons helps my family enter into the season with a prayerful spirit and also helps draw us closer together as a domestic church.  Here is a list of some we have practiced over the years.

  1. Burying the Hallelujah: The word Hallelujah is not used once during the season of Lent. It is not even used on Sundays. Hallelujah comes from a Hebrew expression which means praise the Lord. It is a term of joy and celebration. Burying or hiding the Hallelujah is a type of fasting of celebration and builds the anticipation for that first Easter shout!
  2. Crown of Thorns: We take a circular grapevine wreath and fill it with toothpicks. Every time a member of the family does a good deed or a sacrifice, they get to remove one of the toothpicks with the goal of all the thorns being removed by Easter.
  3. Family Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet: An increased focus on family prayer.
  4.  Cleaning out the pantry: Our week of Mardi Gras is usually when we use up all the snacks and treats to prepare for a dryer period of food in the house during Lent.
  5. Stations of the Cross at our table: A dear friend of ours made us a long thin board that we place upon our dining room table. Upon it we place 15 small candles. We have a book we have used for 18 years called The Story of the Cross by Mary Joslin. The book used to be read by Dad but is now passed around the table as we now have a table of readers. We turn off the lights and read a station, light a candle and sing the Stabat Mater. As the kids have gotten older, we have added in the Latin. This tradition is my favorite.
  6. Amon’s Adventure by Arnold Ytreeide is another story that we have read throughout our Lent. We use it as an Advent calendar except the treat is the quality family time.
  7. The decorations in our home for Easter do not go up till Easter. It is always joyful to decorate on Easter Sunday with flowers and linens and decorations that remind us of the triumph of the cross and that Easter is celebrated longer than just a day.
  8. The Passion of the Christ directed by Mel Gibson: As our kids have gotten older, this has become a rite of passage. This movie we usually wait till confirmation, as the content is not new, but the imagery adds depth to the strong themes of this movie.

Family traditions plant seeds of faith within the hearts of our children. From Mardi gras to meatless Fridays there is much we can do within the walls of our homes to enter into the Lenten season.  I once had a vision of my son as a young adult hearing about stations of the cross and being mentally drawn back to our dining room table where he attended stations every Friday during Lent as a child. His hand lit held the flame to light the candle and he remembered. I hope and pray that none of my children fall away from the church as they grow into adulthood but the gift of knowing that each tradition we establish within the walls of our home forms a positive memory of Christ’s love and presence makes it worth every bit of effort.