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marybeth

Friend comforting friend
Family, Life

Be open to the challenge of receiving love; you are worthy

It’s easy for me to love. It is what I do. Raising eight souls and being married 24 years have given me plenty of opportunities to grow in the knowledge of how to love.

Those who are loved by acts of service, I’ve got your gas tank filled up for you. Physical touch? Let Mommy rub your shoulders. Gifts? Here’s a special package mailed to your dorm room.

To the one who needs to be affirmed and connected, there is a note placed on top of your pillow, and “special time” is a coveted but precious phrase in our home. Those who are blessed with it bloom under its umbrella. At times, we have all felt loved by these efforts, but for me, the doing has always been easier.

I find myself in a season of needing to receive love, and it is formative. There have been multiple times in the story of this incredible family of mine where charity has been needed, and, oh, the stories of generosity and kindness have formed the backbone of who we are as a family.

But I have come to realize that my openness to that charity and love was always for my family. They were (and continue to be) always worthy, but it was for them that the charity was received.

I sent a text the other day to a good friend on my way back from a hard appointment. In it, I laid out the details of upcoming medical care: when I would be home, and when I would not. This friend, so busy with a thriving life of her own, responded: I will be there with your children.

I sat there in the car, as my husband drove me home, holding the phone and reading that message. I will be there. I sat in awe of that fact that she so loved me that she would stop her world, that I was so much a part of her world, that she would do that for me. Not for my children, not for my husband, but for me. I was worthy.

It’s a tricky thing being loved. I have been married 24 years, and even now there are days where I ask my husband, “Really, me?” Steadfast and true, he responds, “Always, you.”

I received a letter the other day from my children’s surgeon. I have spent 15 years walking with this man, showing him Jesus along the journey. I have been so grateful for the friendship that has grown.

His letter, so woven with care and love for me, left me weeping. In it, he spoke of who I am. He spoke in words that said he knew me, my strengths and weaknesses, and loved me. I was fully known and loved.

I’m in a place of pondering love. Not romantic love, but abiding love. I am reeling from the deep and steadfast love that is being laid before me in a time of need. Male or female, child or senior, love is being given to me. Love is slowing me down with its sheer radiance.

At moments, I feel like Peter or John at the Transfiguration, almost blinded by the sheer brilliance of it. It is palpable. There is no avoiding being loved like this.

A dear priest friend shared with me that receiving love is more challenging than giving love. That is why God became man, to show us how to receive. This has been my reflection, day and night, that I may live in that humility.

I know I am not alone this season, where receiving love is a necessity. It is also an opportunity I don’t want to let pass by, for I know this is sacred time – this dependency on the Father’s love, walking forward in faith and trust.

The Lord works through us in our weakness. When we allow ourselves to be supple to His working within us, our strength becomes His light shining from within and welcomes others in. Love speaks, welcomes, gives and frees us in our deepest moments.

This season, may we welcome love in all its brilliance and receive it as the gift that it is.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Times

Family of Ducks
Faith at Home, Family, Parenthood

Opening My Heart to God’s Plan

I have become a go-to person for large family questions. I am not sure which child achieved me this status. Sons one, two, and three are all incredible gifts and watching them grow together was and continues to be a joy. Was it number four because we chose to open our hearts after our third son was born with a rare disability? Maybe number five because well, we got our girl so why have another? Number six was a surprise, but oh, how can there be a morning without the embrace of this son?

Adopting number seven with the same disability as my son just made us saints in the eyes of so many, but the truth that I have come to recognize is I needed her more than she needed me. This self-directed, joyful daughter of my heart has changed me profoundly. Number eight was a shock to us all and a risky “yes” to the Lord, as carrying her put us both at a risk, and yet to know this almost 9-year-old daughter of mine is to encounter such a pure heart.

In truth, having a large family was not my plan but rather God’s plan for me. In it, I have found sanctification. I have learned mercy and sacrifice. I experience love in its purest form every day through the gift of this family. I am becoming the vision of the woman I hoped to be, but never could I have gotten where I am by following my own plan.

This beautifully rich tapestry of marriage, woven together by an openness to life, has not been without its hardships. There is a cross that mothers carry that goes beyond the needs of our children, seen and unseen. We are tied to our children from the moment of conception, and that bond lays the foundation for a lifetime of service and joy.

As I write this, visions are filling my head and heart of all the moments we have been so blessed to share together as a family: the memories of older siblings meeting the younger for the first time, the way my youngest daughter runs to meet her oldest brother when he comes through the door, and the normalcy of big family life that has made the challenges of having children with special needs be the second thought rather than the first. The mistakes, the mercy, and the redemption we offer to each other over the years from within the walls of my family are unfathomable. The family truly is the mirror of Christ’s love for his church and its richness paints a masterpiece that daily I offer to the Lord.

I love sharing this family of mine with the Lord. They belong to Him more than to me and in that I find a heart so ready to listen and laugh. I share their antics, their successes, and their sorrows. I belly laugh in prayer when I debrief the day with the Lord. Daily, I am in out-loud conversation with the Lord as to what is happening within the walls of this home because I have become dependent upon Him to keep it together. He knows me so well, forming and blessing me through all my hours and days. There is such peace and grace that goes into knowing and owning this!

I simply cannot convey the richness that has come from opening our hearts to this family. As a mom of many, I am often asked, “How do you do it?” Staying close to the Lord, intimately close, the kind of snuggle into your husband, breath his scent and hold it in close is how I do it; how we do it. I rely on the intimate relationship I have cultivated with the Lord.

It is also true that large family life is done best with a father who leads by example. He daily lifts us up to the Father as St. Joseph did his Holy Family, interceding for us in prayer and deed. My husband and I are indeed one flesh. We are connected by our love for each other and our sacrament of marriage. We live our marriage and our parenting out loud in a way that is utterly dependent upon the recognition that without Jesus, this house would fall.

We did not choose big family life as a statement of our Catholicism, but rather God chose it for us as a statement of His plan for our lives. Having a big family does not make anyone a saint, though it might offer more opportunities for sanctification! There is no award in heaven for me due to the number of children I have conceived. Rather, this openness to God’s plan lived out in the everyday continually forms me into a woman, wife, mother, and daughter who knows her identity and strives to live a life worthy of that gift.

This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com

Image credits: Canva Pro

Woman sitting with two coffee cups in foreground
Family, Life, Mercy and Suffering

A New Lens of Hope and Understanding

Preface: I am not a writer on grief. Suffering, this I know  –but grief is new to me. I can write on laughter, joy, prayer, and love, but I never knew how they all could be wrapped up in a package of grief. While emotions are completely raw, they also offer healing. I share this with you in that spirit and ask your prayers as my family walks forward in faith.

I’m sitting in your chair tonight: a place I never thought I’d be. I feel numb at the loss of you; not really able to process the day’s events. It happened so quickly. This is not how I thought this day would go. And yet, you’d be happy I feel. We are here, all of us together, caring for Dad and helping him through what seems unimaginable, yet what we knew was coming.

I’m learning to know you again; a you I never knew — you through other people’s eyes and words. I wish I’d known this mom. They all speak so highly of you. I read your letters and your words to others, and I met a new person. This person seems recreated, renewed, filled with hope and a touch of sadness. This was you all while I was here; you just never showed her to me.

Day after day I prayed for you to know Jesus. I did, Mom! I prayed for you to know Him because I wanted you to have the eternal. This you I’m meeting while sitting in your chair … she took the Gospel seriously. She fed the poor, clothed the cold and needy. She welcomed in the stranger and offered shelter. She gave in countless ways. And yet she stayed stubborn till the end. I am not sure if it was all stubbornness, or if fear held you back. How is it possible to hold on to our brokenness and yet strive for sainthood? Letter after letter, call after call, I’m learning it is quite possible. Perhaps that is where we all are. It’s so hard to let go of hurts and wounds, yet so many stories are filled with your acts of kindness. You always had a servant’s heart for others. It is good to know that those virtues carried on as I moved away and raised my own family.

I can’t believe I’m sitting in this chair. It’s a visceral reaction that I am trying to comprehend. I both hug myself, wrapped in a blanket you knitted, and then throw it off as I stand up. I imagine you knitting and watching television. I wish I could be Ebenezer Scrooge on the outside of the window, seeing you and knowing both sides. It certainly feels like that kind of night as I write this. Most experiences like these are strong pushes to look for the Lord speaking into it. I’m always learning from what I see and asking how I can use it in my own parenting and marriage.

I won’t be the same, Mom. I will use this lens of hope and understanding you have given me as a final parting gift here on Earth to look upon others and cast away my assumptions. For I believe that as God formed us in our mother’s wombs, He planted seeds of our identity. Seeds that as they sprout, whenever they sprout, bear blooms of righteousness and redemption. Thank you for this gift. Pray for me, Mom, as I will pray for you. You are free of the shackles that bound you here on Earth. May your spirit soar with the angels you so dearly loved to collect as you watch down on us from above.

This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com

Image licensed via Adobe Stock.

St Maria Goretti
Faith Traditions, Saints

Walking with the Saints: St. Maria Goretti

A frequently quoted mantra in our home is that your story starts and ends with mercy. It is written on the white board that holds family announcements. It is brought out when mistakes are made, feelings are hurt and we desire to make amends with ourselves, those we’ve hurt, and especially with the Lord. Mercy is lived out in our home in very tangible ways. Without mercy, there can be no love, for we are all flawed as humans, and breathing mercy allows us continually begin again on our path to heaven.

How blessed we are to be part of a Church that preaches and lives a Gospel message of mercy; a Church which lifts up those within the Church as models and companions with whom we should strive to know more fully.  In a society where role models are frequently found from the front cover of a supermarket magazine, it is heartening to see the story of Maria Goretti shared and spoken of by so many of our youth. She is a relatively new saint in the church and a young one as well. Her virtues of purity, fortitude, and mercy are living examples of the power of forgiveness, and we hold tight to them in our everyday lives bearing witness to the grace that mercy can bring. 

St. Maria Goretti

Saint Maria Goretti was born into a poor Italian tenant farming family. She had no schooling and no ability to read or write. Her family shared a home with another family after the death of her father. She was at the age of twelve when one of the older sons came into the home and attacked her. Though she fought this attack, she also continually reminded the young man, Alessandro Serenelli, that this was a mortal sin and would send him to hell for his actions. She was stabbed repeatedly and died shortly after. Upon her deathbed, she forgave her attacker.

Serenelli was sentenced to thirty years in jail. While in jail, he received a vision of Maria in a dream, bringing him flowers, one for each wound he had inflicted upon her. From that point on, his life began a new course and his first act after being released from prison after 27 years was to go to Maria’s mother and beg forgiveness.

Devotion to this small but faithful martyr grew, and in less than half a century, on June 24, 1950, Maria Goretti was declared a saint. Her mother, sisters, and brother attended her canonization, along with her attacker Alessandro, who had joined the Capuchin friars.

Allowing ourselves to walk with Maria Goretti is akin to the hard task of learning to love Jesus like a child. In her, we see a strong and pure desire to love and serve the Lord. She is not a saint who was well catechized. She could not quote Scripture. Her witness of purity and mercy is simple and fervent. Reading her story, one can feel this, as from her deathbed she desires to be in heaven one day with her attacker. She pleads for him from heaven, teaching us that prayers go beyond death; that God can make all things new. Her mercy gives us courage to forgive the deepest wounds against us or our family and to trust that mercy can heal and redeem.

In Maria Goretti, we have a beautiful saint to whom especially our youth, but all of us as well, may seek intercession for pure hearts and minds. We also receive the gift of a saint whose life began and ended with mercy. Saint Maria Goretti, pray for us.

Saint Maria Goretti’s feast day is July 6. She is the patron saint of purity, victims of sexual assault, young girls, and mercy.

This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com

Image licensed via Adobe Stock.

Bible Group
Life, Reflections

Behold How They Love One Another

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 our 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 crisis 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 for 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 livestreamed. 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.”

Picture licensed through Adobe Stock

This article first appeared on CatholicMom.com

Child peaking at Mom praying for Striving for Sainthood
Family, Life, Parenthood, Reflections, Saints

Striving for Sainthood: Saints Living Among Us

It is always good counsel to walk with a friend who brings you closer to the best version of yourself. Some people draw you to them in wonder, as you see the way they live their life and we seek to imitate them. Some people make you shift a bit in your seat at their outspoken nature in professing their faith. They live life intentionally with a laser-like focus on their mission.

I’ve shared often here about walking with the saints in our church: St. Monica, St. Andrew. St. Anthony, and St. Thérèse; there are so many examples of holy men and women in our church’s history.

This time however, I feel called to write about those striving to be saints among us and how we can have eyes to see them. Saint is an often-overused term. Webster’s defines it as a very virtuous, kind, or patient person. Surely, we encounter these people in our everyday lives, and yet there is more. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops define a saint as “the members of the Church who have arrived at perfect union with Christ, who join their wills to the will of God in praying for those in the Church. When we encounter someone who is striving for sainthood among us, we feel it in our soul. We are uncomfortable but drawn in. These “saints” among us live the everyday life as we do but do it with a joy that is palpable. They shine light amid the cobwebs that have gathered in front of our hearts and eyes. We see something in them that calls to us. That something is love. That love is Christ.

I have encountered numerous living saints on my journey and knowing them has taught me to examine my life and strive to be more in relationship with Jesus because of their example. Living saints make us both uncomfortable and aware of their passion and peace. We strive to walk with them and learn from them and then go out, like they do, on mission. For as Pope Benedict reminds us, “We are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness.” 

A few years ago, I met a young man who made me uncomfortable with his zest for Christ. He challenged me with his unbound zeal for missionary life. He was freer than anyone I have ever met! He spoke of freedom as something given not attained. This young man sang praise and preached mercy in coffee shops, at dinner tables, car rides, and grocery stores. He made and continues to make me uncomfortable in the best of ways. He laughs and cries purely. He gives and prays fully. He reminds me of John the Baptist in his quest to prepare the way for the Lord. He is an unending wick on a candle burning with love for Jesus Christ and he will never not be on mission. 

I have been blessed to know another soul with a missionary heart and a zest for the Lord, meeting him early on in my marriage. The Lord is his joy and stronghold and he has rooted his work, his vocation, his community and most importantly his heart upon this truth. Rarely does it seem that a decision is made without being in conversation with the Lord. His discernment is true. His efforts are motivated with love. His heart is sincere and while we may disagree from time to time, I know his heart to be true. He manages his time in such a way as to be very successful professionally and personally. He is humble and grateful for all blessings. He seeks to share his blessings because he knows they were gifts to him. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift is from above.” 

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Another glimpse is of a woman who is a mother working outside the home. She is a lawyer on mission and a young mom of many. She raises her young children to love the Lord. She leads a praying home. Her children revere the Lord and dress up as priests on occasion. She comes from a faithful family. She and her husband are joyful and kind. Undoubtedly life gets messy and there are hardships, but they persevere. They continually give of their time, talent, and treasure as they are able. They live a just life and seek to carry on the mission of the Church. It seems ordinary but is daring in their quest to live the Christian life as a witness. We all need these witnesses. 

Carlo Acutis is a young blessed in our church; which means he is being considered for sainthood. He died in 2006 at the age of 15. He lived in Milan, Italy, and from the age of 7, after receiving his first holy Communion, attended daily Mass. He was outspoken in praying his Rosary and leading others to Jesus. He used modern technology in a way as to bring others to Jesus. Such outspoken words such as, “To be always united to Jesus is my program of life.” He lived life with an urgency saying that “Every minute that passes is a minute less to be like God.”

Carlo came from a home described as barely lukewarm in its Catholicism. His mother remembers going to Mass three times in her life; Baptism, first Communion, and Confirmation. Carlo is interesting and inspiring to me in his fervency for spreading the gospel with joy but also his desire to be in right relationship with the Lord and mother Mary. Here is an example of a modern saint in the making who lives by example, bringing others to Christ. 

We are all saints in the making. At least that is our call. That is our mission. Whether it be outspoken and counter cultural like John the Baptist or selfless and servant hearted in raising up a family like Saint Zélie, sainthood is achievable! This is truly our purpose here on Earth. Have you ever felt that tug on your life for something bigger? Has something someone said led you to search for more? May we all take a moment to reflect on the people who have challenged us by their words and actions to be better versions of ourselves. May we too strive for sainthood by being living examples of Christ’s light in the world. Our church needs us now more than ever.

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Copyright 2021 MaryBeth Eberhard
Images: Canva Pro

This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com