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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.

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

statue of Saint Monica
Family, Life, Reflections

Walking with the Saints: Saint Monica

This year, I resolved to take a walk with a saint. This idea came from a shared coffee-shop conversation with a dear friend. Each year I will befriend one saint and we will journey together through the ins and outs of my year with my dear husband, eight children, two dogs, two cats, homeschooling, writing, and teaching. But whom should I choose for my first new friend? I thought St Thérèse would be great, or maybe Mother Teresa. We adopted one of our daughters from the Missionaries of Charity so surely that would make sense! I love to sing so St. Cecilia and I had something in common. These all felt like trying on a costume that wasn’t the right fit. The secret, a friend told me, was to pray into this and let the Spirit guide you.

As I prayed, I felt drawn to St. Monica. Oh no, I thought. I am the mother of five boys whose adventures keep me plenty busy. I know the struggle grows greater the older they get and a couple are ready to be leaving soon. But over and over God kept speaking, from an old book to a saint medal gift from my husband, nudges became pushes and one night I just felt St. Monica place her cloak over my shoulders and I resigned to walk with her. The word resigned sounds ungrateful, doesn’t it? But it is the truth, for I knew bits and pieces of St. Monica’s life and I knew that walking with her would require me to walk a path of trial and tribulation. I knew increased courage and fortitude would stem from this journey, yet I did not feel up to this task.

Along this journey with St. Monica, I have immersed myself in her life, reading St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer by Mike Aquilina and Mark Sullivan, and Restless Heart, a historical fiction account of St Augustine’s youth which then led me to St Augustine’s Confessions where St Augustine speaks of his mother with such honor and love. I have written letters and shared conversations with St. Monica, both in long walks and on my knees in supplication. It has been a year and I have been strengthened by my new friend.

St. Monica was a strong and devout woman of faith whose intimate relationship with our Lord led her to raise her children as Christians alongside her pagan and often unfaithful husband. (He later converted due to Monica’s disciplined example.) So too were her children raised in a Christian household. St. Monica was known to be in the church twice a day for prayers. It’s interesting to me that as self-disciplined in prayer and as outspoken as St. Monica was regarding her Christian identity and relationship with Jesus, her son Augustine still struggled with great sin and doubt. His actions caused Saint Monica great suffering and anguish and yet she persevered. St. Augustine is quoted as saying,

“My mother spoke of Christ to my father, by her feminine and childlike virtues, and, after having borne his violence without a murmur or complaint, gained him at the close of his life to Christ.”

This was her mission and once achieved she continued on. This inspires me to live a life of example worthy of who I say I am and also to place my focus first upon my husband and then upon my children. Saint Monica had her priorities in order.

My children know the Lord and yet the desire of my heart is for them to enter into a relationship with him. That is the transition from youth to adult in my mind. As a parent we can plant the seeds of faith as Monica did so frequently, but our children must embrace the faith on their own in order for their relationship to be authentic and intimate. St. Monica shows us patience and perseverance.

St. Monica was also an advocate for her son. Knowing him as only a mother can, she followed him, spoke truth to his heart, reached out to others to speak louder when her voice seemed to be unheard. Her persistence lead to a bishop, St. Ambrose, to assure her that “it was not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” At this point, Monica felt great peace and knew that her son would know the Lord. At the age of 55, St. Monica died. She was blessed to see her son’s conversion before she died.

My year with my new friend is not finished yet. We have a couple more months to sojourn together. We will walk together as my daughter leaves for her first year of college, trusting in God’s protection and all the seeds planted. We continue to walk through a pandemic and grow family prayer traditions and virtue. We raise our voices in song and praise the Lord from whom all blessings flow as Monica used to love the traditional chants from St. Ambrose.

This practice of walking with a saint for a year is a highly recommended spiritual exercise. St. Monica chose me, and her faith in me has urged me onward through many a challenging moment. I pray that we all take the time to know these friends, the saints, as the depth of their faith cannot go unnoticed and truly lifts up the human heart.

St. Monica’s feast day is August 27. She is the patron saint of married women, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of (verbal) abuse, and conversion of relatives.

This article first appeared on CatholicMom.com here.

Copyright 2021 MaryBeth Eberhard
Images: Canva Pro

Boy comforting praying mom
Family, Life, Mercy and Suffering, 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

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