Browsing Category

Family

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

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. 

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.”

Girl struggling to put on goggles
Family, Life, Parenthood

Survival

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.

Image licensed through Adobe Stock

do small things with great love!
Family, Parenthood, Reflections

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.

Family, Life, Marriage, Parenthood

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.

Family

Finding Balance in Family Life

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with your mind racing; filled with disorder? Or find yourself standing in the middle of your kitchen/sitting in your car… wondering how am I going to take care of all of this? If you are like me, and that is probably not the best thing to be right now:), you get overwhelmed. You see yourself plowing through the everyday not ever getting to the little extras you have at the bottom of your list.  Those extras.. the things on my list that never get crossed off because I am always taking care of others… and then I crash.

But I am on a mission this Lent. A mission to restore myself.  To be honest, this will probably take longer than 40 days, but it is a beginning. Things on the bottom of my list have been: read a book, take a walk, go to Adoration, sit and pray, date night with my husband. They never happen or very rarely because I let the other things have priority. It is coming to me lately that I make the list. I get to state the importance of each action item, and I need to reclaim that authority over my life.

I need to take care of me so that I can take care of others. There are all kinds of slogans like that: Live simply so that others can simply live. Do less so that others can do more. etc. But seriously if my cup is empty I have nothing left to give.

I listened to a podcast the other day at Messy Parenting and learned a lot about reordering the priorities into my life.  A pyramid of sorts with Prayer at the bottom of the triangle. Next comes personal care, then taking care of my partner, then peripheral… And it is shocking to me how much I can put in the peripheral.  I am thinking about this. It is making sense to me.

Prayer is the foundation for everything listed above. When I take time to pray I am listening to God as He balances my day. He lays out a plan. He brings to my heart those I need to lift up. He lifts me up! How often I am looking to others to affirm me when my Dear Jesus is right there waiting to shower His love upon me? A routine that has worked for me in the past is to set my alarm a half-hour early and have a place for prayer. Accents are important and do not need to be elaborate: a soft light, a warm blanket, a candle. I have a spot in my den where I have all the images of my family’s patron saints. I like to think of them as friends who are with me. I light the candle, sip my cocoa or tea, wrap myself in a blanket and read my devotionals. A couple of favorites right now are Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Roses among Thornsby St. Francis de Sales, I have my highlighter and I highlight all the passages that span to me form my devotionals. Our parish is also doing a program called Alpha.  I have a Bible in a Year app on my phone and I use that as well to read my scripture.  I love the Psalms as well and sometimes I will grab the music book and sing myself a psalm or two. They are so comforting and having them memorized form being in the choir as a child has brought great comfort to me through the years.

Personal is the next level on the pyramid. Here it is: the taking care of oneself. Here is where I can give myself the time for a walk, the time to make that salad or a fresh pot of soup. The time to read a chapter of a book, and/ or grab a cup of tea with a friend. Things that used to be for others I am now opening up into my world. They are not extravagant! It is crazy to realize this!  I also am putting the time for me to do my paperwork; my thank you notes, my quick bill paying, etc. So I am making a plan. I pencil in a walk with a friend, schedule a cup of tea with a friend, schedule something each day to refuel me. So far I have read Pride and Prejudice and watched the movie! ( So good! I even shared the movie with my family and had some good family time as well!) I have gone to daily Mass a few times and shared a 2 1/2 half hour cup of tea with a friend at a local Panera. Oh! And I am trying to eat my food when it is warm:). I’m aiming for a date night coming up and have lunch scheduled with a good friend tomorrow. So the future looks bright!

Taking care of my partner; in this case, my handsome husband is pretty important to me. Getting myself and this man to heaven is my priority.  Being married almost 23 years we can get caught up with the lives of our kids and the running of our house. By taking time for myself, doing some reading, taking a walk, discussing the latest whatever with someone else gives me something else to bring to our table of discussion instead of how was the kids’ school day? I can make him a special meal. I can write him a note. Looking at my life this way is helping me to be more intentional. I was at the dollar store the other day and I picked up some cards that I can leave on his desk every once in a while with a note. We used to do that when we were younger. How fun it will be to revisit that tradition.  Love.. it has to be fanned to keep the flame alive. We are blessed with church family whom our children call aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas and we trust them. Their kindness allows us to grab a date night out here and there. All we have to do is make it a priority. Put it on the calendar. Be intentional. Take care of the one you love.

Peripheral is the smallest one, yet the one where I placed most of my energy. The doctors’ appointments, sports teams, music lessons, therapy appointments, friends visits, youth groups, house cleaning, laundry, etc. It’s all peripheral; It’s all in the background. I am creating a structure for laundry, chores, etc so that they flow more smoothly and are not the focus of my day. I am letting go of the crumbs on the floor and the toothpaste in the sink and taking time to recharge. I am delegating more to my kids. Surprisingly it is easiest for my smaller kids to embrace this change as my bigs have grown up with me doing more, but they are coming along.

It is my prayer that this new structure that I am trying to add into my life will make still my mind and bring it peace and balance. I pray that by seeking to find God’s will for myself and my family in all these areas, we will continue to draw closer to one another. I seek constantly the example of the saints in the church. Struggling mother issue? St. Monica. Lost Something? St. Anthony. Small stuff weighing you down? St. Therese of Lisieux is the answer. The Holy Family has always been an inspiration to me in the model of caring for self and others and how to live a life close to God our Father. May the Holy Family pray for us all

Family

Give Up the Seat

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

It’s an endless battle; the mad rush to sit “shotgun” in the front passenger seat in our car. With so many bodies to fill that coveted seat, the prerequisites seem mind-boggling: Is it defined by weight? Size? Age? I am reminded often that there are so many benefits to sitting in this beloved seat. You are navigator, DJ, and can have a quality conversation with the driver of the vehicle. (The seat warmer is just a bonus.)

Today, as I drove four of my children to morning appointments, the arguing began. My husband is out of the country for a few weeks, and I have been flying solo. I took a deep breath and silently asked for guidance. Immediately, an image came to mind of the parable Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 14:7), where Jesus reminds us to not sit at the head of the table lest we are told that seat is reserved for someone else. Rather, it is best to take the seat at the end and be asked to come sit in the place of honor.

I explained to my children that what they needed to seek was humility and develop gratitude. The constant assuming that the seat belongs to you can transfer to so many other aspects of their lives. That part in the school play should have been mine. All my friends have nicer cars than the one I can afford. He has the next version of whatever technological gadget is this year’s craze … and then it hit me. I fall victim to this too.

I fall into this same trap. I have had periods of wondering why I wasn’t chosen. Why I was left out. I have thought that I should have been recognized for a certain achievement and not received it. Corrie ten Boom, a World War Two Holocaust survivor and author, is quoted as saying “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When I reflect upon who God created me to be and the gifts He bestowed so generously upon me to get there, I am laid low by my own humanity. It is so human to value place, recognition, accolades. Yet that is our own destruction because, as I reminded my children, our dignity as a person is not defined by where we sit. (Or what we have, or what school we go to, what paper we write for or how many books we have published.) Rather, our dignity as a person is defined by the simple recognition as being a child of God. It’s so simple and yet so easy to whitewash.

I think we need to be careful of this because failing to rest in the simple reality that God created us in His image, and that His cross opens the gates of heaven for us all, denies us this very inheritance. So, my dear children, give up the seat. It was never yours to begin with. If it is offered to you, say “thank you” because the One who loves you is offering it. But please, take no offense, for your worth in my heart and in the Father’s heart is not seen in where you sit but in rather who you are becoming with each selfless act of charity.

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
Family

The Miraculous Healing of the Eberhard Family: Seeing is Believing

It’s 8 am in my busy house and my phone rings. Exhausted from an emotional night, I answer the phone. “How’s that boy of yours?” the caller asks. Immediately my body tenses and the wall around my heart grows another layer taller. “He’s wonderful,” I reply. “Thank you.” After a short amount of perfunctory chit chat, the call ends. I carry on with the day receiving multiple similar calls. The wall around my heart grows taller with each one. The day seems long and endless, and I am stuck in a rut that I alone have made. Continue Reading