Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Thanksgiving is over.

Our month-long steady-stream-of-houseguests is all gone.

My daughter's dance performance was last night.

I've packed my big kids' lunches for their homeschool school tomorrow.

And, now I'm doing laundry.

Cleaning bathrooms.


Making mental lists.

Because my daughter is having open-heart surgery on Friday.

Thursday is pre-op at the hospital--EKG, full physical, tour of the facilities, meetings with the surgeon and anaesthesiologist who will be doing the four-hour-long procedure.

Now that all of our Fall activities and visitors are over and done, I'm thinking a whole lot more about the whole thing.  About the fact that my baby, who has only been my baby for the past two months, is having a very serious surgery.  That will necessitate 7-10 days in the hospital...if there are no complications.

Kevin will thankfully be able to work from home next week, so he'll be holding down the fort here with our other six kiddos.  I'll of course be at the hospital with Mekdes.

Dear friends are watching our kids both Thursday and Friday.  Dear friends will be bringing meals to my husband and other children while Mekdes and I are at the hospital. 

This has been an incredibly humbling season in my life (to say the least!), which is definitely a good thing...but it has its challenges too.  Because I'm horrible at accepting help.  I hate feeling like a "taker."  I feel like because I have a big family, I really, REALLY have to have it all together.  And honestly, many of the very people who have been taking care of us since our girls came home are people we've not known more than a few months.  What a blessing they have been.

I'll update you all on how the pre-op goes tomorrow.  Please be praying that she's cleared for surgery.  And in the meantime I'll be doing laundry and scrubbing toilets and soaking up time with each of my precious little ones.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of ornaments and redemption

SO excited to hang a shiny red ornament on the Christmas tree.  For the first time ever.

Finding just the right spot.

Concentrating, because this is serious business.

Pure joy.  So, so proud.  Be still my mama heart.

Just days before her open heart surgery, Mekdes hung her first ornament and took part in the general chaos that is Heldt-family-decorating-for-Christmas. 

This is going to be an amazingly incredible, emotional holiday season for us.  Heart surgery on December 2nd, at least a week in the hospital, then home to recover and enjoy what is left of December as we anticipate and reflect on the coming of Jesus.

Redemption, come into the world.

Especially real this year because some of that beautiful redemption is actually living at my house.

And I got a glimpse of it when Mekdes hung her first ornament.

I am humbled.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Happy Thanksgiving

There's something so beautiful about all of the many firsts for an adopted child who's recently joined your family.

This was of course Mekdes' and Tigist's first Thanksgiving.

Our family (minus me, since I was still getting over a stomach virus) started the day off by going to Mass, then in the afternoon we all headed down to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's home for Thanksgiving dinner.  Kevin's parents were there too.  So nice to be with family!

On a personal note, there are two things in particular--among my many, many blessings--that I found myself thankful for this year. 

One of them is of course the fact that Tigist and Mekdes are HOME.  With us.  They are a delight in every possible way, and it's as if they've always been here.  I continue to be in awe of their transition.  Oh the joy they bring to each of our hearts!

The second thing I am grateful for is Christ and His Church.  Since being received into the Catholic Church a month ago or so, I have been continually amazed and humbled by the way God has worked in our lives through the Sacrament and through His body here on earth.  How sweet it it is to receive the Eucharist each week, and how blessed we are by the many friends God has brought our way.  How sweet it is to be home.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving as well!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Journey to Rome: How I fell in love with Mary (part II)

A portrait of Mary in our hotel room.  Rome, 2011.

Well, buckle up folks.  Because today I'm sharing how exactly I came to terms with some of the harder Marian dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic faith.  If there's anything about Catholicism that makes Protestants want to run far, far away, it's Mary.

And, I kind of get that. 

Quite frankly, Mary was one of my "hang-ups" with the Catholic Church for some time--even after educating myself on what the Church actually teaches (and doesn't teach) about Mary the mother of God.  It was all very new for me, and I struggled to understand why any of it mattered, and how Mary's place in the Church fit with the worship of Jesus.  Was it idolatry?  What was the point of praying to Mary when I could just, you know, pray directly to God?

But I'd also come to believe that the Catholic Church is true.  And the fact is that the deposit of faith (the Bible + Tradition), handed down by the Apostles, includes ideas like the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.  So I kept reading, and kept praying.  I read what the early Church fathers and Christians wrote about Mary.  I read the Bible.  I read works by various apologists, both Catholic and Protestant.  I read statements by the Reformers.  I even read a book about the Vatican-approved Marian apparition in Rwanda, Our Lady of Kibeho

I was not an easy sell.  :)

But...I kept coming back to the idea that Jesus has given us the Church, and from very early on, well, the Church venerated Mary.  Not to mention, Mary-as-the-new-Eve (Paul of course tells us that Jesus was the new Adam) is incredibly compelling from a theological perspective.

Whatever you believe, God used Mary to play a significant role in salvation history: to carry and birth and raise our Savior--and through giving birth to Jesus, she essentially gave birth to the Church.  She said yes to God when Eve said no.  She is a shining example of sacrifice.  She is the mother of my Lord, and how blessed we are to have her for our mother as well.

So as Catholics, we venerate (or honor) Mary, which is not the same as "worshipping" her the way we would God the Father, or Jesus the Son.  (That has never been taught by the Church, ever.)  And we honor her because Jesus honored her.  Rather than taking honor away from Jesus, Mary points us toward Him.

The Catholic Church teaches that when Jesus placed Mary in John's care, as He was dying on the cross, He was ultimately giving her to the Church, as a mother.  (John 19:25-27.)  So we believe that she is the loving mother of all Christians.  And just like we hang family photos in our homes, we oftentimes also have artwork depicting the Holy Family.  We like us some statues for the same reason.  And we believe in the Communion of Saints and so believe that Mary prays and intercedes for us.  Which is all kinds of awesome, no?

When Catholics pray to Mary, they are asking her to pray to God for them--just like sometimes we ask our friends or religious leaders or coworkers to pray for us.  The more prayers on my behalf, the better.  The more prayers on my behalf spoken by Jesus' mother, the better.

And yes, all of this is based on the Catholic understanding of scripture (both Old and New Testaments), as well as a historical and traditional understanding of early Church history.

I want you to check out this fascinating and beautiful video.  The symbology is pretty astounding--an 11 minutes well spent.  :)

I am honestly falling more and more in love with Mary the mother of Jesus.  I love knowing that she prays for me, and for the Church, and that she knows what it is to be a mama.  When I start to wonder if God is asking too much of me...I think of her and how she said yes to Him.  When my children are hurting or suffering...I think of her and how she watched her beloved son die unjustly on a cross.  And I love that God uses the stuff of this earth--bread, wine, humanity, water, a virgin from Nazareth--to do His supernatural, Heavenly bidding.  What an incredible miracle and mystery. 

If you're interested, I highly recommend Scott Hahn's Hail, Holy Queen.  He writes in a super engaging way, it's not a long read, and hey, he used to be a Protestant.  :)

I'm so very grateful and humbled that God has brought me to accept--and celebrate!--the Catholic Church's position on Mary.  I do understand that it's difficult at best (and offensive at worst) for many Protestants.  But when I sit at Mass each Sunday, as I pray to Jesus and prepare to receive Him in the Eucharist, I love to look upon the statue of the Blessed Virgin.  And when I do, I love to think about the amazing gift she gave the world when she simply said yes to her God. 

May I have the grace to do the same.

{Part I of my journey from Protestantism to Catholicism can be found here.}

Monday, November 21, 2011

Update on my daughter's heart

Mekdes rocking out at a Stephen Curtis Chapman concert.

On December 2nd, my five-year-old daughter Mekdes is having open heart surgery.

It hasn't really sunken in yet.  I do know I'm not looking forward to it.  But I'll be glad to get it done. 

The cardiologist said we could have until summertime, but it's just too hard to wait that long with something so huge hanging over our heads.  Plus, we've already hit our max for the year with insurance (funny how two heart surgeries will do that for you) so from a financial perspective, it makes sense to have it done now.

The surgery itself is four hours long, and we're looking at a 7-10 day hospital stay, provided there are no complications.  That's going to be a lot of juggling for us, but we'll make it work. 

Without this particular surgery, my daughter would have a very short life.  She's extremely blessed as it is that she has not incurred any serious heart damage yet, and that would eventually change.  Scary stuff.  So we're of course really hoping that the surgeon is successful in fixing her defect, since it's a pretty big deal.

I've been thinking a lot about Mekdes' birth mom and how, when we met her, she was adamant about two things:

She wanted to know if we were Christians, and wept with relief when we said yes, and

She wanted her daughter to get the medical help she needed so that she could live a good life.

This woman of course had no clue that her daughter really was looking at a greatly-shortened lifespan due to the heart defect she was living with.  Oh how I wish I was able to tell her about Mekdes' surgeries and about how we're taking care of her.  I wish I could tell her about how our priest prayed over Mekdes and about how all of our friends have supported us with prayers, meals, and love. 

Mekdes' pre-op is on Thursday, December 1st, and then she'll be admitted the next day for surgery.  And in the meantime it's homeschooling and Thanksgiving and houseguests and putting up the Christmas tree and Anna's dance performance.  Life marching on.  Even amidst open heart surgery.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Journey to Rome: an overview (part I)

Mary and me, and Michelangelo's Pieta, in Rome.  April 2011.

As promised, I am (finally) opening up about why my husband and I walked away from a combined 61 years of Protestant join the Catholic Church.

Things like this aren't easy to explain, in part because a faith journey can be an intensely personal experience, and also because in our case (like so many) it is multi-faceted and messy.  A lot of you won't be able to relate, and that's okay. 

I personally come from a long line of Catholics and former-Catholics.  (My maiden name is Perruzzi.  It makes sense.)  My formerly-Lutheran husband does not.  (His last name is Heldt.  It makes sense.)  And I've discovered that no matter what your background, there is a lot of widespread misinformation about Catholicism.  While I am happy to share the truth, I'm not an apologist and won't attempt to correct every single misconception or argue with you about the Immaculate Conception.  I have friends much better suited for that sort of thing.  I on the other hand will humbly attempt to share my story.  (But if you have questions and you ask nicely, I'll do my best to answer them!  :)  )

Roughly four years ago, I read a book by Thomas Howard that would (unbenownst to me) set my conversion in motion.  It was called Evangelical is Not Enough: Worship of God Through Liturgy and Sacrament.  The title may sound inflammatory and not like anything a lifelong Evangelical Christian would ever read, but the author is Elisabeth Elliott's brother (and who doesn't love Elisabeth Elliott?), and I wanted to learn more about the Sacraments.  I'd always belonged to non-denominational churches that taught that baptism and communion were merely symbols, even though most Christians around the world say otherwise.  And my husband used to be a Lutheran and we had a lot of theological conversations about those things.   

Howard's book (which is EXCELLENT), along with much conversation and prayer and a lot of Bible study, brought me to a point where I did believe in the Sacraments as such.  I felt convicted that we ought to be a part of a liturgical church that observed the Sacraments and was solidly embedded in the historical Christian faith.  (My husband felt the same, and always had, really.)  We knew though that we'd be moving shortly so we remained at our non-denominational church in the meantime.

Allow me to break here and say that my ten years at Grace Church were blessed and fruitful.  Grace was an anchor in my life when I came to college and was seeking the Lord in great earnest.  Many faithful, amazing people crossed my path there--people committed to loving and living like Jesus.  I gained a greater understanding of the Bible and of my faith.  The Gospel and Word of God were the standard.  I met  my husband there.  Thus, I am ever grateful for how God worked in my life during my time at Grace.

I will also say that my prior eighteen years at Creston Community Church were quite wonderful as well.  I never knew a day where I didn't know the love of Jesus.  My childhood church involvement set an excellent foundation for the rest of my life, and I learned how to follow God and work out my faith in this little country church.  Again, nothing but gratitude.

But when we moved to Denver, we found a Reformed Protestant church to attend downtown (PCA at the time, though it soon switched to the RCA denomination.)  Considering my own background, it may as well have been Catholic--I felt clumsy at first because it was all very new to me.  But, I loved it.  Lots of liturgy.  Communion each week.  My children were all baptized shortly after Mary was born.  Our time there (three years, as it turns out) was wonderful as well.  We made a few good friends and I fell in love with historical Christianity and with communion-as-a-Sacrament.  While I don't think we ever quite "fit" in certain ways, we didn't really anticipate leaving, at least not anytime soon.

In fact, we probably would have been content remaining in Protestant Reformed circles, never giving Catholicism a second thought, were it not for the other piece of the story.

You see, shortly after we'd moved to Denver, I became interested in the historic Christian teaching on, well, contraception.  Random, I know.  We'd been convicted for years about this issue, and I wanted once and for all to understand what Christians have believed about this throughout the ages.  And I get that most people don't really care.  Most people don't see what birth control has to do with a guy who died on a Roman cross two thousand years ago.  It's a non-essential in Protestantism.  And I wanted to know why, because it sure seemed to me that something as fundamental as the playing out of our sexuality, something that affects pretty much every single part of our lives, should matter to the God who created us, who "made them man and woman".

The truth is that I was shocked at what I found.  Turns out it wasn't always a non-essential.  In fact, the Protestant faith was united with Catholics on this matter for centuries, up until the 1930s or so, when the Anglican Church changed its position (allowing for contraception in "some" cases).  The vast majority of Protestant groups eventually followed, the pill came along in the 1960s, and the rest is history.

Naturally I now wanted to know why exactly Catholics continue to teach against the use of contraception.

Again, I was shocked.  The Roman Catholic Church's teachings on marriage, children, vocation, and personhood were the most profound, simplistic, beautiful, and cohesive things I'd read on the subject.  Ever.  And they actually made sense.  Both Kevin and I dug in, anxious to learn more.  We read things like Covenanted Happiness, books on Theology of the Body, writings from John Paul II, and work by Kimberly Hahn and Christopher West.  It seemed one could never fully mine the depths of wisdom pouring from the Church on these issues.  It seriously felt as if we'd struck gold.  No joke.

If people asked, I found myself telling them we followed the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage and contraception.

Which was weird, because we weren't Catholic.  :)

But we wholeheartedly believed that this historic position, formerly held by Protestant Christians as well, was true.

It was around this time that I became intrigued to discover that there were actually lots of people converting from Protestantism to Catholicism.  People like Thomas Howard, Francis Beckwith, and Scott Hahn.  And did you know that Rich Mullins was about to join the Catholic Church when he died?  Or that Elisabeth Elliott is a regular guest and speaker at various Catholic universities, and has taken some flack from the Protestant community on account of this?

We started to wonder what else the Catholic Church said and stood for, if they were the only group standing firm on the issue of contraception and if so many well-respected Christians were compelled enough to convert.

The theology was fascinating.  We quickly gained an IMMENSE respect and appreciation for the Roman Catholic faith, even though we thought we'd NEVER be able to become card-carrying members...thanks to those few pesky issues like Mary and the infallibility of the Pope.

Still we kept reading.  And, guess what, there are reasons (both rooted in the Bible and in Tradition) for those more controversial doctrines.  They were actually not as scary as Jack Chick and Loraine Boettner would have wanted us to believe.

And we began to see that so very much of the divide between Catholics and Protestants comes down to one word: authority.

How does the Holy Spirit work?  Why are so many earnest, prayerful and solid believers divided over such significant issues?  Why does the Bible refer to the Church as "the pillar and foundation of the truth"?  What are we supposed to make of Peter receiving the keys to the kingdom of Heaven?  Why can no one agree on what the Church is supposed to look like today?

What on EARTH do we do with passages like John 6?

Basically we started wondering, does authority ultimately rest with each individual person and their private interpretation of the Bible, or is there more to it?

And as the misconceptions about Catholicism were replaced with knowledge about what they actually believe (and why), and as we pondered all of the above questions, we eventually arrived at the surprising and humbling conclusion that authority ought to rest with Christ's Church.  The one established by Jesus, founded upon Peter, and carried forward by the faithful down through the ages.  Just like Jesus promised.

Initially, we were, um, somewhat terrified by this conclusion.  What would people say?  How would we leave our church?  So we told ourselves that we'd just be secret Catholics-at-heart for awhile, that there was no need to do anything rash.  But God wasn't content with that and brought us to the place where we had to acknowledge that if we truly believed this was Christ's Church, why would we deliberately spend another moment outside of it and the graces therein? 

So in August, we began attending a local parish.

In September, we formally announced that we were leaving our Protestant faith community of the past three-plus years. 

And in October, we came into full communion with the Catholic Church.

We received the Eucharist for the first time.

We have been blessed beyond anything we could have imagined.

Now before someone has a bunch of Chick Tracts anonymously delivered to my house, allow me to say that we've explored all of these issues from both sides--devil's advocate and all that.  This was not an immediate or purely emotion-based conversion.  It took four years and was pretty difficult in many ways.  My husband worked in a Christian bookstore in college where the only books touching on Catholicism were written by Protestants--and shelved in the "Cults" section.  (He didn't put them there though, just so we're clear.  :)  )  I own a John MacArthur study Bible that has its own interpretation of John 6.  People can go back and forth all day arguing the meaning of scripture, and that's why it eventually always comes down to authority: who do you believe?  So we are well aware of the counter-points, and of the theology reflected in Protestantism.  Still, we chose the Catholic Church--or rather, She chose us.

There is really so much more that I want to share. The dear people we've met on the journey, the books and blogs we've poured over, how Kevin and I have wrestled with these things together and yet sometimes reached different conclusions at different times, the many blessings and also the challenges.  I'll do that soon. 

But in the meantime, here is my feeble introductory explanation of how--and why--we've "gone all in" with Rome.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Surgeries and blessings

Well, we made it.  :) 

Surgery day started early...I got up at 4:30 am, got ready, and packed up our overnight bag, my laptop, a bunch of books, and of course my girlies.

Kevin stayed home with our other kids until lunchtime, when he took them to a dear friend's house so he could meet me at the hospital.

We got to Denver Children's Hospital at 6 am, checked in, and headed up to cardiac pre-op.  Here are Mekdes and Tigist in the wagon during check-in.  Happy as clams.  Just like always.

Tigist's procedure was first.  Could she be any cuter in her hospital gown?! 

I met the anaesthesiologist who, it turns out, lived in Ethiopia and worked at the Black Lion Hospital for some number of years.  Crazy.  And Tigist's nurse's in-laws were missionaries in Ethiopia.

When it was time for surgery, they had me suit up in all the gear, and carry my dear baby into the room.  I laid her down on the operating table, stood with her while they put her under, and then they had me give her a final kiss and leave the room.

I nearly bawled.  It was awful.  Flooded with emotion and "what if"'s and love for my dear, beautiful Tigist.  But I kept it together.  (Because when I cry, it's always the ugly cry.  Always.  And I knew I'd never be able to stop.) 

I came back to find Mekdes napping.  In a chair.  Sister having heart surgery?  Right before you go in for heart surgery?  No big deal.  May as well take a snooze.

Eventually it was time to start her pre-op.  She made the gown look good too.  :)

And before I knew it, someone came and told me that Tigist was all done.

That things had gone well.

That her heart was fixed

Again, me on the brink of bursting into tears.

Something so impossible in Ethiopia, but so very important for my daughter, healed in the span of an hour and a half or so.

Of course then it was time to take Mekdes in for her procedure.  Another heart-wrenching kiss goodbye.

I spent the duration of Mekdes' surgery with Tigist in recovery.  (This is what you do when you have two kids having heart procedures on the same day, back-to-back.)  Who was cute as could be and wanted NOTHING to do with having to lay flat on her back for four hours.  The girl wanted to play.  I did my best to keep her distracted with Baby Einstein and multiple slushies and some pudding.

I also did a lot of praying for and thinking about Mekdes.  Unlike Tigist's, her procedure was just diagnostic.  Because she needs open heart surgery to fix her defect.  And she's lived way too long with it, and it's not uncommon to develop lasting, serious heart damage when that happens.  The surgeon needed to see if her body can even withstand open heart surgery, if her heart is even operable.

Those are pretty high stakes.  Because we'd been told that without open heart surgery, her lifespan will be cut drastically short by eventual heart failure.  NOT something a parent wants to hear.  Ever.

So, yeah, I was pretty anxious the entire time she was in there.  What would they find? 

But then the surgeon came out. 

Told me she did great.

She has literally NO HEART DAMAGE.

She is an EXCELLENT CANDIDATE for open heart surgery.

And she apparently USED to have a hole in another part of her heart.  But at some point it closed on its own. 

Had it not, her heart would have been inoperable.

Meaning a much shortened lifespan.  But that hole healed, so now she can have the surgery she so desperately needs. 

Just like her first mama would have wanted her to have.

Here she is sleeping in recovery.  When she woke up, she was crying inconsolably from the drugs.  So, so sad.

I'm sure any parent whose child has ever had serious surgery knows what I mean when I say I wanted to grab the surgeon and give him a huge hug while jumping up and down and cheering and crying, all at once.  I didn't, but I wanted to.  God used him to give my babies another shot at life.  I'll always be grateful for Dr. Darst and his care and concern for my daughters.

Because things could not have gone better than they did.  They went so well, in fact, that we were discharged that afternoon and didn't even have to spend the night!  (Guess I didn't need all my books afterall.  :)  )

And I am convinced, beyond any doubt, that God worked miracles through the Sacrament they received Thursday night, and through all the prayers of friends and family.  My parish homeschool group prayed a novena for my daughters in the days leading up to the surgeries, and that morning they all prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together, for my girls.  Friends dedicated their Mass intentions to us.  I am beyond grateful, and beyond touched.  More than you can imagine.

God has been so extremely faithful to our family throughout all of this.  And NOT simply because we had a good outcome.  He has lovingly cared for us through His Church and through our many wonderful friends.  In a more general sense, I feel as if God has been working overtime in my life this past month and a half or so, breaking me down and building me up.  That is, ultimately, a good thing, even if the circumstances are hard.  Maybe especially because the circumstances are hard.

So thank you, thank you, thank you for everything!!!  Mekdes and Tigist are doing great, and I'll be sure to let you know when we get the (deep breath) open heart surgery scheduled.

Here they are on Friday night, home after their procedures, smiling and playing before bedtime.  Tigist with her healed heart, and Mekdes with the potential for a long life up ahead.  Oh how blessed we are!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Surgery day!

Today is the day.

My daughters Mekdes and Tigist are having heart surgery.

In fact, as you read this, at least one of the procedures has already begun.

I'm writing this the night before, though.  (Isn't Blogger and its ability to schedule posts so fancy?  It's like time-travel.  Sort of.  :)  ) 

Right now my mind is swirling and my emotions are all over the place and I just feel so very vulnerable and small.

I'm thinking about how life is fragile and ever so precious.

I'm thinking about how there is so much more to life than meets the eye, than what we see here on earth.  So.much.more.

I'm thinking about redemption and suffering and the big-ness of my daughters' stories.  And about how their stories have collided with mine, and have become mine.  It's kind of funny how God works.  He joins hearts and brings beauty from ashes and shows up in the most unexpected of places and circumstances.

As a child or young adult I never dreamed that TWO of my children would one day be undergoing heart surgery.  Nope, never crossed my mind.  I never imagined I'd be spending a lot of my time at a children's hospital while a surgeon attempted to repair my daughters' congenital heart defects.  Of course, most people probably don't anticipate facing those sorts of decisions and trials.  If it's not part of your life experience, you just don't think about it.  You think life will go as planned.

But then you grow up and you discover that things don't go the way you thought.  Pretty much ever.

And I have to be honest and say that my life has actually far surpassed any of my expectations.  God has done wonderful, beautiful things and no day has been wasted, not one.  And today is the same.  I don't know how things will go, how my daughters will do, if Tigist's defects will be fixed or if Mekdes will be a good candidate for open heart surgery.  But God is in today, just like He was in yesterday.  That I know.  I also know that it is the unseen that matters most of all, and that God is working in ways I don't even understand yet.

Still I'm afraid, and I think that is normal. 

I feel the weight of responsibility, and it's heavy. 

I feel the weight of the procedures, and the risks involved. 

I feel the weight of open heart surgery looming in the distance. 

I feel the weight of meeting my daughters' respective birth mothers, and of my promises to them that I would love their girls and make sure they got the medical assistance that they needed.  I can see their eyes and tears as if it was yesterday.  I want to do right by my daughters, and by the women who gave them life.  It's big stuff.

However things go tomorrow, I have faith in God's provision for my little girls.  Their very lives are a testament to that.  Two children with multiple heart defects (related to the fact that they were born with Down syndrome), born into poverty in a developing country, eventually relinquished by their mothers, spending roughly two years in an orphanage waiting and waiting for a family to come and get them. 

They are survivors.

And God is faithful.

So we begin to write the next chapter of their story today--them and the surgeon in the Cath Lab and me in the waiting room.  I don't know the future or the plans God ultimately has for our family, but He is strong and perfect in our weakness.

Last night, our daughters received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in preparation for today.  It was just our family (all nine of us), our friend Troy (the girls' godfather), and Father Daniel (our priest).  What a precious time.  My heart felt so encouraged and I was incredibly blessed by the Sacrament itself and by the prayers and the support shown to our family.  I felt truly strengthened. 

And the crazy thing was, as soon as we finished, Tigist got into the crawling position...for the first time ever.  No joke.  She has never been able to do this, and her therapists were really hoping that eventually she could.  I honestly think God has a pretty great sense of humor...apparently, who needs a physical therapist when you have the Sacraments?  :)

I will do my best to update on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day.  Barring any complications, each procedure should only be 2-3 hours or so.  The same surgeon is performing both.  (And of course it's always possible that the surgeries may need to be rescheduled due to random health issues, but I'm praying that's not the case.)  I'll arrive at the hospital with the girls at 6 am and Kevin will be home with our other kids until lunchtime or so, when he'll probably drop them off with a dear friend and meet me at the hospital.

Today's a big day for Tigist and Mekdes. 

And so I'll close by saying I'm so very grateful for my dear, sweet, brave little girls, for those near and far who are journeying with us, and for the hope we have in Jesus.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In which we cross the Tiber

I've thought long and hard about how to share this.

Because like most things in my life, it's something most people won't understand.

And, that's hard for me.  I'm generally a people-pleaser and I have a history of caring way too much about what others think of me.  I avoid conflict and confrontation and any sort of direct involvement in controversy.


I'm committed to being honest, and to this blog being a window into my life.  My actual life.  Not a glossy, mostly-fictional account of all of the fabulous things I do or the ways in which I'm an amazingly-awesome-mother-and-wife who reads Beth Moore while knitting Kevin a Snuggie.  So I'm not about to start keeping significant parts of my story hidden from view in order to make it more palatable to the masses. 

And I actually have something really exciting to share!  I want to tell you about it!  It has been years in the making.  It is about our faith and it is beautiful and sacred and deeply meaningful to me and my husband and to our children.

So the Big Announcement is that:

Two weeks ago, we were received into the Roman Catholic Church.

Yes, the former-Lutheran and the lifetime-Evangelical "swam the Tiber".

On Reformation Sunday, no less.  :)

I'm so anxious to share our journey and hearts with you, and will be doing so in the coming days.  So be sure to come back!

And please believe me when I say that I know it doesn't make sense to most people, and there are those who genuinely fear for our souls and who think we've lost our minds.

That is humbling.

And hard.

But where God leads, we must follow.

And so we're Catholic now.

It's good to be home.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Empty house and random updates

Matching Dorothy's on Halloween.  Love these two together!

I know, it hardly seems possible with nine people in our family!  But as of today, our houseguests are all gone and it feels a bit empty around here...even with seven kids racing around.  :)  My dad was visiting for a couple of weeks, and my dear friend and her three kids were here for a few days.  I already miss every single one of them!

Things at the House of Heldt are going well for the most part.  Assorted kids are recovering from assorted colds.  I'm still on antibiotics for my second round of strep throat and am feeling pretty well, though am a bit paranoid about whether or not I've actually kicked this thing or not.

Tigist just finished up her first week of therapy--physical therapy on Tuesday, and occupational therapy today.  I have been so impressed with the therapists and their enthusiasm and gentle way with my daughter.  Who of course is a huge hit with her smiling and clapping and positive attitude.  So proud of that girl!

Friday of course is surgery day for both Tigist and Mekdes.  Gearing up for that and desperately hoping they will be healthy enough to have the procedures. 

There is really just so much to catch up on, between housework and laundry and email and general life stuff.  Oh, and blogging.  I'm looking forward to digging in over the next several days and reconnecting with all of you!

So in the meantime, I hope you're having a fabulous week and enjoying this beautiful Fall season.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Upcoming surgeries (life all mixed up)

Yesterday we received letters from the hospital detailing my daughters' upcoming heart surgeries.

{My husband and I recently brought our girls home from Ethiopia, and they were both born with Down syndrome.  You can read more about their heart conditions here.}

The surgeries are scheduled for November 11.  A week from tomorrow.

So far the whole thing has been super surreal.  Consulting with surgeons and cardiologists and all of that, while my sweet little ones chatter and play, and then we all go home as if nothing happened.  No big deal.

But seeing those letters, with instructions for fasting and times to arrive at the hospital and details about staying overnight, made everything a whole lot more real.  And scary.

I've decided that there's just something about heart surgery.  Not that I would want my child needing ANY sort of surgical procedure, but when it comes to the heart, well, it's extra frightening.  Has it been too long?  Will the surgeries be successful?  Will Mekdes even be a candidate for the open heart surgery she so desperately needs?

So many unknowns.  Not to mention I have no idea how I'm going to survive the hours that they're actually in surgery.  No clue.  Those two blocks of 180 minutes or so are going to seem like a torturous eternity, I am sure.

I'm suddenly just really aware that there are so.many.things. that are completely out of my control.  I feel vulnerable.  I'm handing my beloved daughters over to someone to {hopefully} fix a problem, and I really don't have a choice in the matter.  Because of course they need the procedure.  But it's risky.  And there's no guarantee that it will be successful, especially since this is something that should have happened long ago. 

But the thing is, God is in control.  And while it hardly seems fair that two children with such an incredibly difficult start in life now need major heart surgery, I know that Jesus is no stranger to suffering.  I also know that Mary, Jesus' mother, watched her son suffer, and she must have felt so helpless too.  All of that to say that I'm in good company.  And I hope to really think on those things as I'm pacing around the waiting room and praying my heart out for my babies.

People naturally continue to ask if we "knew" about the heart defects when we pursued these adoptions.  I always tell them yes, we knew it was highly likely. 

But I don't look at it as "choosing to adopt a child who has a heart defect"--as opposed to choosing a "healthy" child or a child with a different medical need.  Plain and simple, it's really just choosing life.  Life for my daughters, and life for myself, and life for our family.  It's simply following after Jesus and finding His face in my children. 

And it honestly wasn't too hard making the decision to adopt Tigist and Mekdes.  I don't know that there are two sweeter souls on this planet!  (Though I do confess that during the process there were many times when I nearly hit the panic button.  I'll share more about that later.) 

But heart surgery is hard.  Letting go is hard.  Trusting God with (two of!) my most precious of gifts is hard.

Still I recognize that this is grace and redemption and faith and love and beauty and pain all at once.  Like so very much of life.  Good and bad, all mixed up.  My daughters have to have major surgery...yet it's something they need, that they can finally receive, and so in that sense it's a gift.  And of course our family will surely endure this trial and God is working something through this, He truly is. 

I gotta say that life in our family these past few weeks has been incredibly difficult from a health-perspective--to the point where I've begun to ask, what else will go wrong?  And yet there have also been some incredibly beautiful things happening too (that I can't wait to share with you).  All at once.  All mixed up.  Life.

A week out from surgery, and it's finally starting to set in.  I feel woefully inadequate for the tasks set before me, but am ever aware that God is more faithful than I can imagine.  And really?  He's been looking out for my daughters a lot longer than I have.  Through both the good and the bad and the all-mixed-up stuff too.   

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Still alive (but barely :) )

I'm sorry for the lack of bloggage this past week!  SO much going on, and our laptop-that-works-well still doesn't have a functional power cord, and I have strep throat again (I don't think it ever fully went away and I also think one of my kids is some sort of secret carrier), and my dad's visiting (and HE'S sick), and pretty much everyone in this house is on some type of medication. 

And as a result, I really haven't blogged.  Even though there is quite a bit I want to share with you.

Anyway, just checking in and telling you I'm still here, and I miss you all, and I hope you had a blessed All Saints Day today. 

Hoping to be back in the groove soon!


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