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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

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
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This article first appeared at CatholicMom.com

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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.

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