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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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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.

School Kids and Parents
Faith at Home, Family, Parenthood

This kind of school is new to us all

It is an odd time in our history as a country when all of our children are being led back to the home to educate. Families are experiencing mixed emotions as they enter into new territory in the middle of a school year. For many, schedules have been shuffled, anxiety and panic are escalating and the joy of learning for the pursuit of knowledge and formation of character goes out the window amid the desire to just get it all done. As a teacher and homeschool mom, I have watched these past couple weeks as social media has become flooded with complaints and comparisons. With a gentle heart, I’d like to step in and offer an alternative viewpoint and some strategies for helping navigate this unknown time.

First, recognize the time we are in. Our children, no matter the age, sense the sudden change. The fear of the unknown can be a heavier burden than the reality, even if the reality is grave. Taking time to sit down as a family and talk about why school has changed and why it is important to take these health precautions can help alleviate some of the worries and also provide a sense of family unity towards this common goal. We are all in this together. Everyone is being asked to make sacrifices. As a firm believer in holding kids to high standards, even the youngest child can rise and join the family in the new normal.

Make a family plan. Set expectations for school. Treating this moment as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience can help build character within us and our children. For instance, if you have a teenager who has been distracted in school, meeting with them and taking the time to build up their skills and helping them set up goals for learning builds up your relationship with each other as well as allowing them the independence to demonstrate accountability and build trust. In our home, it is said often that trust is built over time. Schooling at home can help build that.

Appreciate this time with your younger children.  There is so much going on in the mind of a young child; the desire to create and wonder, to explore and discuss. While curriculum is important and can be a tool to help guide this, remember that the time spent learning together is just as important as the knowledge being acquired. Keeping a journal, taking pictures of your learning together, reading books together, sharing what has been learned at the family table are great ways for your younger ones to feel involved. 

Be careful with the words we use.  The dignity of a human, no matter the age, will always grow stronger with affirmation. Choose words that present the schooling at home situation as an opportunity rather than a “catholic mom chain” around one’s neck. Do not demean yourself or your children with jokes that belittle them or your ability.  See this time at home as a gift to grow relationships within the family. Our lives run at such a hectic pace that the opportunity of time can cause panic. What do we do? Rest, laugh, go outside, read, play games, talk, listen, share time and space with each other and smile. It is amazing what an offering of a smile can be in many situations!

Trust yourself. It is being said that we are all in this situation together and indeed we are but no one situation is the same. As a homeschooling mom, our schedule has been drastically changed as outside classes, sports, music lessons, activities, and work schedules have all been altered. There is much to adjust to for us all yet seeing the opportunities within the current situation can help keep our perspective positive. This type of schooling, whether a veteran homeschool parent or one who is new to schooling at home, is not an optimal version for any of us. This is a historic time where virtue can rise and families grow stronger. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” What an opportunity! what fresh beginnings we are being gifted with!

On a side note, so many resources are being offered right now to help support parents and children who are educating at home. From illustrators offering daily art classes to online support for geometry and physics, one cannot scroll social media feed and not be overwhelmed. While all these resources are helpful and can support the learning in the home, they are not necessary. It is so easy to be overwhelmed and compare how we are “doing school” to other families. It has been said that “Comparison is the thief of joy” and that is so true in these times. One does not look at one’s neighbor and say “Oh, that is how we should be setting our table. Or that is how we should dress or mow or plant our garden or raise our children. Rather through prayerful discernment, we structure our family in a fashion that supports our family values. Trusting your ability to help facilitate learning in the home will help decrease the stress level immensely.

Love of learning comes by having an environment where we are being supported, challenged, and where a love of knowledge is being modeled. So, pick up a book, take up a new skill from that bucket list and show that learning is a lifelong skill. You might be surprised by the comradery that develops with your new students while you learn at home.

Parenthood, Reflections

This Mom is Strong

The hours tick slowly by as I knew they would. No one remembers this day as I do. How could they? It is mine to experience. I remember the protest outfit of sunglasses, a black skull cap, and his black clothes. He was nervous and done with having this be part of his life; this was his voice. It is an odd feeling helping someone prepare for something they do not want to go through; being both their strength and the one walking him back to the operating room. We had sat through countless surgeries. It was sadly an old routine for us.  10-12 hours: go get breakfast, pray a rosary, take a walk, try to read, check in with the other kids, get an update from the doctors, repeat… But this one was different. We kept getting called back in: sign for blood transfusion, (if necessary), need to do one more procedure (2x). It just felt different. The what if’s were palpable between my husband and me, yet we stayed trusting in the process and the knowledge that we have one of the best orthopedic surgeons for Gabe’s condition in the world. He has known Gabriel since he was 4 weeks old! Deep breath… We met Gabe in the ICU after the surgery. He was sleeping, medicine was being administered; finally, we were on to the next stage where we could be a part. I sent Ryan back to the Ronald McDonald House to get some sleep. I would take this night shift.

I’ve often wondered what he dreams of when he asleep for so long; when the pain is so strong that medicine is being tag teamed and the necessity of not falling behind is incredibly real. There is nothing quite like chasing pain. Time is not your friend. I remember sitting down in my chair next to his bed, next to the hum of the pumps and the intermittent vitals being taken. Restless, I got up. The nurse came in to give him medicine. As I stroked his soft curls, I heard a choking sound. The nurse turned her head and looked at Gabe, then at me. She began to call out his name. Stats began dropping on screens. Alarms went off. She yelled,  “Gabe! Gabe!” She began CPR as I held my son who had stopped breathing.  Nurses rushed in. Doctors came flying through the door just waking up from grabbing a few hours of sleep themselves. “Mom, you are going to need to step out,” said one of the nurses to me. The doctor looked up. We have a relationship he and I. I am Mom. He knows my face; this part of my story too well. “No. She can stay. This mom is strong,” he says.  So I stay. I stay as they call out my son’s name. I stay as they pump repeatedly across his chest. Carts come flying in. People. It’s a whirl of activity and I stay and hold my son. With no response from Gabe coming, they go to intubate. Now I am asked to step out. (all this takes so little time and yet I can replay it over in slow motion.)

The ICU is a fishbowl. All the rooms have glass doors. Our room is on the corner. It’s bigger.  I sat outside the open room on the floor. My Mary medallion hugged close to my chest. Gasping for breath, I called Ryan. Turn around, I cried. He’s not breathing. Ryan began his journey back to the hospital; not knowing if his son would be alive when he arrived. Such different experiences the two have… To this day I am not sure why I called the people I did in those moments. “Gabe has stopped breathing. Please pray.”  I remember calling my oldest son and our dearest friend who is Gabe’s Children’s Hospital nurse. She stayed with the kids at home in Columbus. How helpless she must have felt as I heaved and sobbed, reading stats only she understood, choking, gasping for breath and all the time wondering what was going on?

During the surgery, in one of our activities to pass the time, we sat in the parent waiting room. We met a new family whose child has arthrogryposis as well. We were relaxed and spoke about the many surgeries and recoveries with an easeful reassurance and experience. We looked at pictures of each other’s kids and smiled at all the stories. I remember myself slumped against the door frame of the ICU and this family whose child’s room was next to Gabe’s. I remember seeing them with tears streaming down their face. Would this be their plight as well? The fear and the reality of every family who walks the suffering path of a child is always there. It is an unseen yet always felt shadow upon our souls.

“What’s happening?” I remember asking as nurses rushed in and out. Praying, tears streaming down my face, wondering in shock truly, after everything he has been through, all the struggles, all his successes, this? THIS was how it was going to end? Incredulous, shock, frozen in time I sat. 

Strength is a word that is overused. It is one that, when referenced, one might visualize bulging muscles or a particular number one can carry. It’s funny how small trivial that definition is when one experiences physically the need for inner strength. “This mom is strong.” Or “ What a strong young man.”  Inner strength defines you in a way that forms your core.  When you tap into the reserves of inner strength, your body doesn’t ask why, how, or where. It holds strong to that which has shaped it over time. For us, for Gabe, that is a strong faith. The knowledge that everything has a purpose to form us into the best version of ourselves; and that journey, is overflowing with joy and wracked with pain. It must contain both for us to attain that fullness.  Pain and fear, not understood, produce anxiety and unnecessary worry.  Acknowledged, they can be released and hope and trust step in. Hope and faith are where strength pulls from. We have faith and hope in what is to come.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God. Romans: 8: 38-398

“He’s got air!” were the words that shook me out of my surreal moment of shock. Voices changed. There was clapping. A nurse stuck her head out and said, “Mom, He’s gonna be alright.”  I still weep as I mentally walk through it all; how I slept with the lights on for weeks next to his bed, how every surgery now became different. Procedures were no longer procedures. An event like this changed you, your child, and the hospital’s routine ease with which they handle cases like Gabe’s.  I stop cold when I hear a code blue called over the intercom in the hospital. I stop because it transports me. I visualize that child’s momma. I feel her mental and physical gasp and I whisper a silent prayer to her heart. “Be strong momma. Know from whom and where your strength comes.”

Tonight and tomorrow, Gabe is on stage. Three of my amazing kids are. They have been working together for months on these productions.  I am so proud of them. I have seen them reach within themselves rehearsal after rehearsal when fatigue sets in with the demands of schoolwork and other commitments. These are virtues honed over time and Gabe is no stranger to self-discipline.  These next two days on stage, Gabe will make people laugh. He will inspire people with his joy. They will not know that one year ago, his time here was so near to an end. But I will. I will remember and appreciate every laugh, every tear, every breath for I know where true strength comes from.