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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.”

Woman Praying in church
Life, Reflections

Behold How They Love One Another

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

Early Christians were made recognizable by their actions. Aristedes, sent by Emperor Hadrian during the days of the early Church to scope out those known as “Christians,” gave a report and these ending words have stood the test of time. “Behold, how they love one another.”

I love my Bible. The sense of belonging, understanding, mercy, comfort, and love it brings me has no parallel. It is a love story that provides unending hope. In it, we are reminded of the steadfast love of our God. He is our constant companion. There really is nothing that we need that He will not provide. We wait with an expectant heart. For us, God is also a Father who loves to bless. Let us not forget this in times that may seem challenging.

Like a parent who picks up the extra treat at the grocery store or who puts gas in her son’s car, the Lord is this type of parent to us as well. We simply must look for His blessings. We also must trust that as for our ancestors before us, God’s plan for us is always better than what we can imagine.

We all can look at our life and see times of trials and crises where we struggled and felt tested. There is a temptation to allow ourselves to feel distant from God or abandoned by him, but that is very far from our reality. We must look back and see how the Lord was with us and how we were changed from those experiences. The situation we find ourselves in today is not new. The threat of this current health crisis can make fear, anxiety, and worry dictate people’s actions. It is an unknown time of wanting to provide and protect our own families. We are being asked to distance ourselves physically from others as a way to prevent the spread of this virus.

Social distancing is by definition isolating and fear feeds that emotion. The challenge again is to look and see how our Father is working in these times. With eyes to see Him, we see Mass and group prayer being live-streamed. We see families drawing closer, playing games, sharing meals, and praying. Candles are being lit in windows as communities join in prayer. Entire industries are responding in ways to unite people. Individuals are pondering their gifts and humbly sharing them, from posting songs on their social media to poems, letters of encouragement, and selfless acts of kindness to others. The Lord is using this situation as an opportunity for us to respond in grace.

For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The truth of our history is that God is always giving us opportunities to become more of the people He created us to be. The Christian paradox is that even in times of trial and tribulation, the Lord is blessing and forming His people. We see this numerous times in Scripture. Consider 2 Corinthians 9:8:

Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

How many times in my struggles have I, on my knees, cried out to the Lord how hard it is to be a Christian and He reminds me that being a Christian is not supposed to be an easy task but rather a leap of great faith. But our Father wants us to have a big and deep faith, a faith that covers all our worries and fears in a blanket of security and trust in Him.

In Philippians 4:6, we see St. Paul offering that same relationship with Jesus.

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.

So let us cry out to God in prayer and petitions. Let us turn to him with expectant hearts that we will be refined and our relationship with him made deeper through these times. But let us take this faith we profess and use it in all the means we have available to us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. For as the old hymn says “ They will know we are Christians by our love.”

Photo licensed through Adobe Stock.

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

The Little Ways

This article is a follow up to the article More Love

It’s early and I am up again moving my son’s sore and tired body. This surgery is hard to heal from. The body takes time to recognize a new shape. Time truly does heal. In the meantime, my husband and I wander back and forth like strangers in the night, rotating his body and trying to keep him comfortable.  I remember telling him this surgery was necessary and that I would walk through it with him. Even in the exhaustion, I need to honor my words. God always provides.

I have been reflecting a great deal on God’s provision lately; the Respect Life cause, specifically. I see many examples of holy families who dedicate their lives to this crucial cause. Families pray outside abortion clinics or fund a bus filled with the latest ultrasound equipment so that a young mother can hear her baby’s heartbeat. These acts of mercy are ever so important and necessary.  However, in the spirit of St. Therese, I am all about the little ways we can live out being pro-life.

When Gabriel was born, and I sat in the NICU rocking him night after night, I remember a two am tap on the shoulder as I rocked him to sleep. A dear friend had driven his motorcycle to the hospital and come to take a shift singing and rocking so I could get some much-needed sleep. His act of mercy still in my heart stands as a testament to his character. Throughout the years, friends and strangers have mailed checks, helped pay for flights, cleaned our home, watched our children, dropped off a meal, dropped off care packages for the kids, mowed our grass and even put together Christmas for us while we were traveling home from the hospital close to Christmas eve!  All these tasks were done out of the goodness within their hearts. They thought of my family and came and did a small good deed. That good deed sent ripples through the hearts of my children. They now seek to go and do the same. “Momma, can we just stop by? Momma, Could we grab a gift card for them? Momma, I’m just going to go help; she looked tired after mass.” The support for a family who faces a difficult pregnancy or special needs child, or any life issue shouldn’t stop with a meal when that baby is born but rather the true need comes when that family is living their yes to the Lord. 

Our family has been privileged to be involved in many organizations that see the need to support the whole family through the life of raising children with special needs. A Kid Again is an example. They plan monthly adventures for the whole family. It is incredible how necessary but unthought-of a trip to Magic Mountain or a Clippers Game is to constantly stay connected as a family and step outside of the medical need. I wonder if there is such an organization for single moms who are facing the everyday struggle of raising a child on their own. To know they are supported and to be given an opportunity to step outside the worry is life-changing. Living pro-life for me is having eyes to see that life indeed does start at conception but the act of walking that new path with that new life needs continuous support. Like a garden that gets watered throughout the hot weather, the one that gets a dose of extra plant food every now and then not only thrives but also blossoms. Think of the bouquets we are building up in heaven by our efforts here on Earth. Lord, please place before my heart those whom you know need a vision of your love on Earth and help me to be a witness of your gentle love. Amen.

Life, Reflections

Singing Out Loud: How the hymns of my youth became the rhythm of my life

Image credit: By Zach Smith (2019), Unsplash.com, CC0/PD

My relationship with Jesus has always been a constant even from my early years. I was always mothering someone or something. I remember as a little girl dressing up as a nun. I’d pack my missal given to me at my first Communion into my purse or backpack and read it in my free time. A few years later at the sweet age of eight, I traded that in for the hymnal. I still have that same hymnal on my nightstand, such was its impact on my life.

Saint Augustine is often quoted as saying “Singing to the Lord is praying twice.” For me, it is the very focus of my prayer life. Often the melody of a psalm or the words from a hymn are my first response in times of joy and need. Of my time spent in church as a youth, this is one of the greatest gifts bestowed upon me.

As a youth, I grew up in a home where family life was tumultuous and broken. I spent a great deal of time at our church, which was built in the center of our neighborhood. I would walk there from my house. Meetings happened all around me, from parish council meetings to PSR to Pre Cana. I sat and studied in the kitchen or sat in the church and did my homework with Jesus. A little grown-up girl at the age of 8, I pretended that everything was normal at home and asked if it would be OK if I did my schoolwork here. Our wise priest, who knew his flock well, paved the way I am sure, and a plate of donuts and a bowl with apples was usually left on the table in the kitchen. He will never know how huge this act of kindness was.

The choir director noticed my constant humming and singing and asked if I wanted to join the choir. Wrapped in the arms of love by this group of prayerful people, who one day would all sing at my wedding, I attended weekly practices and became a cantor. One of the members built me a stepstool so that I could reach the microphone! I attended every Mass, every prayer service, many funerals — always singing. I would walk home after practice, sometimes in the  dark of night, and sing at the top of my lungs with my heart wide open to the Lord.

As I started home, I would begin with a “Glory and Praise to Our God,” and when I passed the house with the cavernous ditch in the back of their yard, out came the “Be With Me Lord When I am in Trouble,” as my little feet walked faster. “Bless the Lord My Soul” followed my supplication with praise. As weird as it sounds, I had songs for all the pivotal moments in my youth.

When things were scary and unknown: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, Beyond my fears, from death into life. God is my shepherd so nothing shall I want. I rest in the shadows of faithfulness and trust. I walk by the quiet waters of peace.”

Watching my friends discern college and figure out what they were going to study? “Abba, Father” was a core favorite. “Abba, Father, You are the Potter. We are the clay. Mold us, Mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus your Son.”

Loud, dangerous or scary times at home: Psalm 91. “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble, be with me, Lord, I pray.” I knew every word, and the melody calmed my fears.

The death of a loved one: “I know that my Redeemer lives, the one who calls me home. I long to see God face to face, to see with my own eyes”: such comfort these songs brought me.

I smile with nostalgia at youthful moments as well, where these songs poured from my heart with all the drama a 13- to 17-year-old girl’s heart could hold …

The high school betrayal of those whom I thought were friends: Psalm 22: “My God, my God, oh why have you abandoned me?” I would sing that psalm and cry out the words. I would throw a stuffed animal, flop on my bed and bang it out on my keyboard.

The ache of a first heartbreak: I was the nerd who sobbed into her stuffed animal. “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have called you and you are mine.” Now granted, I totally had the theology of this misplaced, but I think it actually was healthy and good because it showed me how much the Lord loved me and how constant He is.

Flash forward thirty years.  I am a joyfully married mother of eight children who have grown up with these songs as the backbone of their childhood. Many nights have I sat at the top of the stairs praying with them. My repertoire has changed these days.

Seeing the need for humility and servant hearts in my children: “The Servant Song.” “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace … to let you be my servant too.”

God’s steadfast love: “The King of Love, my shepherd is whose goodness fails me never. I nothing lack if I am his and he is mine forever.”

Bedtime: “Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” is a family favorite and is known in my book to have special graces to even calm down after daddy piggyback rides with younger kids and dad jokes shared in the older boys’ rooms. An eyebrow raised, a knowing smile, and the songs begin.

Some might grumble as they get a little older, but I hear them hum the “Lourdes Ave” as they nestle into bed. Even my older son whose bedroom is now in the basement will sometimes sit on the staircase with me when he comes home and finds us in the middle of bedtime, and hum along.

These are the cadences of our family’s heart, the melody that drives our days. I am so grateful for the gift of music to aid me in my prayer life as a youth and my vocation as a mother.

St Cecilia, pray for us. St Augustine, thank you. Jesus, I trust in you.

Reflections

He more than me…

Image credit: iStockPhoto.com. Licensed for use by Holy Cross Family Ministries.

I love to be loved. I love knowing my husband loves me, my children love me and my friends love me. I love the feeling of intimacy and security being loved brings.

Lately, I have noticed myself needing that love a little too much. I have noticed when the love that I am giving is rejected, the hurt I feel wounds deeply. Words that teenagers say in the heat of the moment sting sharply and cut at the heart of who I am as a mother. The fluidity of our daily life, the constant coming and going, has kept me on edge and I am feeling stretched in a way that mandates me calling on the Lord for realignment and focus.

I’m re-evaluating things there in my heart. I’ve always been about relationships. I seek them, form them, share them. I’m wondering if perhaps my focus should be more on the relationship my children have with Jesus than the relationship they have with me.

If my children are in a relationship with Jesus then they are in a relationship with me because if you are in a relationship with Jesus then you know love and not only know how to give and receive love but you desire to do it because you know the joy it brings. If my friends are in a relationship with Jesus, then they too shine with joy and love. Sometimes we all need reminders that we are in a relationship with Jesus. Relationships take work. Investment is key.

But how? Of course, there are the usual ways to introduce Jesus to your children, family, and friends. We go to mass, read stories of saints, share fellowship with others who know and love Him. But it goes deeper than that.

My son once said as he and I spoke about discernment. “Mom, I know who Jesus is, I just don’t know Him.” That struck me because I had thought that was what we had been doing; knowing him. I thought all the rosaries, camps, prayers, novenas, etc were raising our kids in the faith. I am sure all these experiences are beneficial, but what they really need is to learn to take time to be with Jesus. It is in the stillness and the quiet remembrance that there is so much more than me and my desires in this world. That sometimes my desires, even if holy and good, can cloud the path to relationship with too much doing and not enough being.

Relationship begins with an invitation. If I want you to meet a friend of mine, I tell you about them. We go and visit them. In the beginning, its a constant back and forth of phone calls or texts as funny new things are shared. Relationship requires vulnerability. As the relationship builds, we might share a struggle, ask how we can help, show a random act of kindness that says this relationship is worth investing in. This can be built between our children and the Lord. We spend a great deal of time in my church on evangelization. I’ve been asking myself am I building these relationships within my family? within my friends? Heck, do I desire it for all whom I encounter? DO I desire that others have more of a relationship with Jesus than they do with me? The answer is yes. From Dave the Facebook friend to my sleeping daughter upstairs to even the person I am most struggling to be in relationship with, I desire them to be in relationship with Jesus more than me because I know that that is an eternal relationship. I know that time here is fleeting and that our time in heaven is eternal. I have a vision of a relationship right now that is very broken here on Earth and that I cannot fix being ever so well in Heaven; of embracing that person in the kingdom and us knowing that Christ made it well.

I’m on a journey. There is more to ponder, write and flesh out as I seek to bring about this in my relationships. For now, I’m putting it out there as a thought, maybe a challenge and a prayer that this brings healing.

Pray for me as I pray for you..

Much Peace,

MaryBeth

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.