Browsing Category

Family

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

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. 

Curtis Adams, Pexels, 2020
Family

The Difference Between Hospitality and Entertaining

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

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

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

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

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

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.”