Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It just works

"Do you have children?" the woman asked me.

{I always laugh a little bit inside when an unsuspecting person poses this question.}

"Yes, I do. We have seven!"

She, like most everyone, was surprised, though less so than I was expecting. Eventually I reached the point in the conversation where I found myself saying what I say to a lot of people:

"It's crazy, and it's busy, but it works. It just works."

I'm not even sure what I mean when I say that. I suppose it's simply shorthand for the fact that we somehow make it to bedtime at the end of each day, and are able to get back up in the morning and work at loving and living together all over again.

Now I must admit that seems awfully minimalistic. There was no mention of baking chocolate chip cookies together on a daily basis, or of sitting side-by-side crafting really magnificent things worthy of display on my mantle. No description of weekly trips to the zoo or museum, no list of big awards my children have won at assorted meets and competitions. No acknowledgement of alleged ideals, and yes I am an idealist (while practical too) in many ways, but when it comes to the question of how we even do this thing, well, sometimes I don't even know. It just works.

Making it through the day. Going to sleep. Getting up in the morning to the same sea of faces.

It's not that we don't do fun things together. We do. But a long time ago, I made the decision that I was not going to measure my success as a wife and mother by things that are external to our family, or by things that other people do. Instead, I'm hoping to love and nurture my children in a way worthy of my vocation, and to grow them into Jesus-loving and Catholic-faith-practicing adults. And for a family our size, that means we don't spend a ton of time running to and fro. Fun outings for us are spent at church activities and/or with dear friends. Those are the things we invest in. And, they keep us plenty busy!

You've heard the old adage "Know thyself", right? Well, when it comes to being a mother, I am anything but a recreation director, and am far from being any sort of fun-activities-for-children guru. I make meals and fold laundry and explain arithmetic and writing lessons. I teach my children the Catechism and make sure to have lots of conversations and cuddling with them throughout the day. I allow them to play freely and use their imaginations. We visit with friends. We read. We do life. And it is in this crucible where conflicts are resolved, where hugs are doled out, where owies are kissed and where discipline and training occur. It is crazy simple, but it works.

And yet sometimes, occasionally, every once in a great while, I still feel a little bit guilty about it. Because which of us hasn't seen some fabulous mom crafts on Pinterest, or read about this or that bloggy mom doing something all-out awesome with her kids? "Man", I'll think, "I'm so not that mom, the cool and creative one. I'm the boring one. Whose kids only do crafts at homeschool group or other peoples' houses."

But then I'll consider our happy little family, and I'll recall what I told that woman, about how it just works. And maybe part of why it works is because I'm sticking to the essentials, and doing what works for me. As a woman entrusted with the care and raising of these particular, seven, precious souls.

Of course now you're probably wondering about those ideals I mentioned above. I do love ideals. And I'm not ready or willing to trash the concept of ideals altogether. Because honestly? I believe we need them--just look at the saints, and how they lived, and what a beautiful example of lives examined and given away for God. So how do I reconcile the two? Doing what works on the one hand, and being idealistic on the other?

I really kind of think that the two are actually pretty compatible. Because what if, in doing what works, we are leaving more space and more time and more opportunity for the pursuit of things that are true ideals?

"Ideally I'd spin my own wool and knit my kids' sweaters, as opposed to buying them. But I don't own any sheep, so I can't do that, and so I'm just going to settle for whatever is less than ideal."

It's a ridiculous example, but you could sub in anything there--buying organics only, not allowing your kids to watch any TV or eat any junk food, enrolling each of your kids in a sport each season, whatever. The point remains the same. There are some ideals that we should truly, honestly, fervently be trying to achieve with everything that is in us, but beyond those, there is freedom in the ebb and flow of life.

And as for what those ideals are, well, here are but a few I've come up with: instructing my children in the Faith, avoiding the occasion of sin, being available to my husband and kids, taking care of myself, loving others, spending time with Jesus, attempting to live out my vocation well. Those are things that should be a given in my home, whether or not I'm making homemade organic green smoothie popsicles for my kids each and every summer. (I buy the Costco-sized box of Otterpops instead. Shhhh.)

So don't believe the lie that you have to settle for somewhere inbetween "it just works" and "ideal motherhood." They're not mutually exclusive, nor does there need to be much of a tension there at all. What is being a mother if not attempting to discover what works moment-by-moment, day-by-day? When did we give up the notion that ideals ought to be rooted in solid virtue and an integral manifestation of faith, and instead began holding up some sort of hollow Betty Crocker/Martha Stewart hybrid as the ideal woman? I'm not entirely sure, but I'll tell you one thing: that is an "ideal" that doesn't matter to me, nor does it work for me.

This is why when I'm sick, and I stick my kids in front of a video so I can grab a nap, I don't feel guilty.

This is why if we're unexpectedly out all day, and I have no time to prep dinner, I try not to feel like the world's worst mom for serving corndogs or quesadillas at the evening meal.

This is why I'm far more concerned about how my children treat others than if they have the opportunity to play organized sports year-round.

Because while I'm not a huge fan of my kids watching mindless television or eating processed junk, and while I love to see my kids enjoying an activity, there is some major love and joy in my home, and lots of little people who make me laugh, and at the end of the day, we're all still here and (mostly) smiling. Life is complicated afterall, and does not always go as we might expect. We are not raising our children in a controlled, labaratory environment, and so there is clearly no room for guilt over ridiculous, petty things. I'd rather spend my time attempting to cultivate faith, hope, charity, and compassion in my own heart, and in the hearts of my children, than expend a bunch of energy trying to be the sort of mom I'm not.

Being a mother requires the ability to adapt, to be flexible. Most of it is lived in the mundane, everyday sorts of moments where we're making decisions and changing our course of action. And I think that having a proper, holy understanding of what constitutes "ideal" will keep us on the right track and moving in the right direction, while allowing us the freedom and space to do what works.

And that is something that works for me.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Yesterday was the feast day of Pentecost. 

And in spite of knowing the day was approaching, I confess I had not given it much thought.  Certainly I've read the Acts story countless times throughout the years, but it hadn't held particular or personal interest for me--beyond appreciating that something pretty amazing happened to the apostles once Jesus ascended into Heaven.  Centuries ago.  I suppose I didn't necessarily see how this story might apply to me.

Looking back, as a Bible-believing Evangelical Protestant, I was always searching and studying and seeking to understand how the stories in the Bible applied to me.  I believed the accounts found in scripture, I believed in God the Father and in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus' divinity.  All those things I believed, so naturally the Bible was very important to me.  Even so, Pentecost was, to me, merely a day in ancient history when Peter gave a sermon and the Holy Spirit showed up to indwell the believers.

But now, being Catholic, there is a historical and ecclesial context within which to understand Pentecost.  After all the crazy stuff happens and the Holy Spirit comes, Peter--upon whom Jesus founded the Church--stood up and addressed the crowd with authority.  He spoke of Jesus' resurrection, stating it as a fact.  He tells the crowd that they must be baptized, and that they will receive the Holy Spirit, and extends this command to their children and to anyone, anywhere, who will listen.  As a result, countless people were baptized, and began following the apostles' teaching.

It makes sense then that Catholics sometimes refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church.  Because on this day all those years ago, the apostles began spreading Jesus' message, with Peter at the helm, and making converts.  This may sound strange, but I actually find myself identifying now with the men and women who were listening that day.  After hearing Peter cite Scripture and historical evidence about Jesus and salvation, they were "cut to the heart" and responded with "What shall we do?"

Which actually kind of reminds me of being cut to the heart myself, back when we were two Protestants reading unlikely Catholic books by Cormac Burke and Scott Hahn, Mother Teresa and Thomas Howard.  Kevin and I eventually reached a point where we cautiously set our respective books down, looked at one another across the room, and asked the million dollar question, What shall we do?

Everything had changed.  All of it.  The missing pieces to the puzzle had appeared, even as some of them also seemed trickier to fit together now.  At any rate, a case based upon history, Scripture, and natural law had been made that we simply could not ignore.  And, it was unsettling.  Because even as we asked our question, we knew the answer.  We knew it lay in following the apostles' teaching.  We knew it meant submitting to the Church Jesus had founded, with its unbroken line of successors to the very apostles whose words we'd studied--and tried to follow--for the past three decades.  We didn't know any priests.  We didn't know any Catholics.  But we were cut to the heart, and we had to do something about it.

Our priest spoke in his homily yesterday about being openly Catholic, regardless of scandal or misrepresentation in the media.  He spoke of how Jesus loves His Church, and about how Jesus told us there would be difficult times.  How often I forget these things.  While I am ever aware of what a gift the Catholic faith is, it is all too easy for me to feel uneasy when a stranger asks where we go to church, or when my Catholic kids genuflect and make the Sign of the Cross on the rare occasion we're in a Protestant religious setting.  But reading Acts now through Catholic eyes?  What an amazing (and corrective)encouragement it is, this story of Jesus and His Church, of Baptism and conversion and following after the apostles' teaching.  It is huge.  Huge.  Life-altering, game-changing, revolutionary, uncomfortable, compelling, all-encompassing, beautiful.  So, so beautiful.

How wonderful it would be if I could pursue that very same wide-eyed and humble conversion each and every day, in my vocation as wife and mother.  Because while Pentecost is, on the one hand, a story about a precise point in time when some Very Big Things happened, it is also one of change and growth and single-minded obedience, something we can carry with us and embrace as we live out our respective callings. 

I've simply come to love everything about this story.  It means something to me now.  From the Holy Spirit's coming to the Church just as Jesus promised, to Peter's message of hope and history and salvation, to the vulnerable yet reasoned response by the crowds.

Who were cut to the heart.

Wanting to know what they should do.

Holding steadfast to the apostles' teachings.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The moment

My husband and I had the recent privilege of attending a lecture at our parish, given by the president of Catholic Charities in the Denver Archdiocese.  And, what a lecture it was!  Dr. Jonathan Reyes is a brilliant thinker and communicator, and did an excellent job of sharing a historical view of what exactly has led to our era of relativism and government inventions like the disturbing HHS mandate.

I even took notes.  And I never, ever take notes.

Far from being an empty rant or tyrade against progressive governing, it was actually an incredibly convicting and hope-filled exploration of where we are, how we got here, and what we need to do going forward.  I'm still kind of mulling it all over and thinking on what it means, for me personally.

The talk was titled "The Catholic Moment", and included the concept that we have arrived at a time in history where we have great opportunity to live out our faith while sharing truth and love, and that it is nearly impossible to occupy that middle space--where we aren't really standing for anything--any longer.

This is something that Kevin and I talk about regularly, this idea that as society shifts and changes, those of us continuing to live out rather antiquated ideas stick out like a sore thumb.  Which on the one hand can be really annoying (just being honest here!), but on the other, an amazing opportunity too.

An opportunity to seize the moment.

What does this look like for a mom to little ones, I wonder?  Those of us who've chosen to be home with our children often assume that we don't have much influence over the culture or much potential for evangelization.  And, I think that's sad.  (Part of what I loved about Dr. Reyes' lecture was that his exhortations were meant for everyone, and meant to be lived out within the context of everyday life.)

I actually know for a fact that this assumption is ridiculous, because I cannot even begin to tell you the number of people--complete strangers--who regularly approach me when I'm out with my children.

Sometimes they ask questions.

Sometimes they project their own anti-child values.

Sometimes they are nice.

Sometimes they are cruel.

But they're always watching, always curious, always interested in just what exactly we're doing, and if we're finally done having children.

Yes, the whole larger-than-average family thing is, for whatever reason, the main issue people want to know about when it comes to us.  And, I get it.  There are, afterall, a lot of us Heldts trailing through Costco, eating at McDonald's, playing at the park.  I don't blame people for having questions nor do I begrudge anyone for being surprised that a family has seven children, let alone seven children within five-ish years of each other.  Not in the least.

But it has been challenging, too.

Because I don't primarily define our family by the things that make us different (size, adoption, Down syndrome, twins, Catholic, interracial).  I'm really just too busy to think much about it!  And to be completely honest, I would, in fact, prefer if everybody just saw us as being the same as them--even if we do go through toilet paper like some people go through oxygen. 

See, I want to be normal.  I want to be accepted.  I don't want to have to admit that I don't use birth control in the salsa aisle at the store.  

I guess I kind of want to pretend that I'm not really doing anything counter-cultural, at all.

But that is simply not always possible.  Nor is it particularly healthy.  Because while I certainly don't think there's any place for running around drawing attention to oneself (and one's crazy lifestyle), I also think it critical that people share the beautiful, messy, and yes counter-cultural story of faith and of God.  Surely that is part of our purpose, as faithful Catholic women living in the now.  And while my sphere of influence may appear on the surface to be smaller than, say, a woman's with dozens of coworkers, I'll bet those coworkers aren't regularly asking her what are otherwise considered probing and quite inappropriate questions.  Which are really just opportunities for sharing my faith, in disguise.  Even if I'm wanting to hide behind the salsa jars.

And this is why I feel so strongly these days about doing it well

Even if--and when--I don't do it well.

It's something to strive for, at the very least.

And so this is my initial response to the concept of seizing this moment in time.  In the coming days and weeks I hope to consider how to better answer folks' questions and the assorted comments they make (there are a few categories they all tend to fall into so it shouldn't be TOO hard to come up with some standard replies), and ideally this will help me fight the temptation to avoid eye contact while mumbling something lame and incoherent. 

Which I am all too prone to do.

But which does no one any good, and is certainly not taking advantage of a moment that I truly want to seize!

Just in case you're interested in watching the lecture, I've posted it here.  It is SO worth your time, and I'm convinced that we need more people like Dr. Reyes to communicate this message in a calm, intelligent, loving, coherent, and clear way.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  (Skip to 40:00 to begin lecture.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Heldts on the prairie

Our family loves all things Little House on the Prairie.

This is an understatement.

Last summer we read through Little House in the Big Woods together, and my eldest (seven years old at the time) went on to read in the series--independently--by fall.

It is not uncommon for something to happen where my kids shout, "That's just like what happened to Laura!"

And several months ago we introduced them to the old television series, Michael Landon and all.  They would watch and watch, falling more and more in love with this pioneer family.  I can still remember a time when my dad was in town visiting, and Kevin and I returned home from somewhere to find them all gathered around the TV, my father teary-eyed and my kids eager to tell me of the things that had happened in the five episodes episode they had watched.

So when we made our recent roadtrip to Wisconsin, there was just no getting around the fact that we needed to make a slight detour in Minnesota--to take the kids to Plum Creek.   You know, that Plum Creek, where the Ingalls family made their home in a dugout house for several years, where Pa farmed the land and where Laura and Mary played and got into trouble.

Our kids were ecstatic.  I mean really, really ecstatic.  You'd have thought we were taking them to Disneyland.  And yes that is my daughter, wearing the prairie clothes some dear friends had gifted her, sitting in the back of that wagon.

Kaitlyn got to choose an apron and bonnet at the Little House on the Prairie gift shop in Walnut Grove (which was a little like Disneyland--to my kids, anyway!)  That is Plum Creek in the background there.  You can see the precise spot where the dugout house was (though it has long since caved in on itself.)

The kids and I, spreading out over (what used to be) Charles Ingalls' farmland.  It was so, so beautiful.

I have to confess that I kind of loved the experience myself.  I read the books--and watched reruns of the television show--as a child, and it was such a surreal experience to actually see where they lived and farmed and played.  It struck me too that this family has become a cultural icon in spite of the fact that they were, well, normal.  In merely telling her family's story--which was surely not unlike the stories of countless other families in her day--Laura Ingalls Wilder managed to captivate and inspire generations of children and adults alike.

In fact, I'm sure this makes me the geekiest of all geeks (and quite possibly the most stereotypical of all homeschool moms, sans jumper), but I've actually been inspired to learn more about this prolific author and her life, and recently requested several biographies about her from the library.  The idea of sharing your story, no matter how seemingly mundane, and impacting the world for good is something that inspires me.  It makes me think.  And it makes me want to keep writing.

So if you ever have the chance to visit any of the historical places related to the Ingalls or Wilder families, I highly encourage you to do so.  Not only are rural Minnesota, South Dakota, and Missouri truly lovely places, it's also a great way to connect your children to the past, and remind them that now is not all there is--a lesson desperately needed in our present cultural climate.

Did I mention that we love Little House on the Prairie?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In defense of Mother's Day

I recently read this article over at, and I confess it struck a nerve.  I mean a really, major, gigantic, I-need-to-write-about-this nerve. 

A popular author hates Mother's Day. 

I, on the other hand, do not.

In the context of the article, she explores the subjects of motherhood and womanhood while giving a defense for the wholesale rejection of a day dedicated to society's mothers.

My first thought upon reading the piece was that our culture is truly a place where, in the name of inclusion, "everybody wins"--we can't recognize excellence or give credit to someone without hurting somebody else's feelings, so we avoid it altogether.  A day intended to honor one's mother has thus been reduced to a destructive and exclusive observance because not everyone is a mother, and some of our mothers have passed away.  Some of us want to be mothers but can't, and some of us have estranged mothers, and some of us have horrible mothers. 

Down with Mother's Day! 

But I can't help but think that each and every one of us was given life by our mothers, women who participated with God in the creation of precious and complicated new souls.  These mothers said yes to God amidst varying circumstances and degrees of ability and preparedness.  They shared their body with another being for nine months.  They sacrificed--yes, even the most selfish of women sacrificed--in some way by carrying a child to term and giving birth.  No matter how good or bad or present our respective mothers were, they gave us life, which is surely something worth upholding--and a reason for setting aside one day out of every 365 for remembering this.

Please hear me when I say that I understand the topic of motherhood has the incredible potential to be tied to great pain and loss. While I don't pretend to understand the sum total of the female experience, I've miscarried twice--and after my first miscarriage, experienced secondary infertility. 

So I know what it feels like to long for a child that simply isn't coming, and to grieve for a child (two actually) whose life was far too short. 

I've spent a Mother's Day, in fact, desperately wishing for a positive pregnancy test result while simultaneously wondering why my teeny, tiny baby had to die--amidst cramping and blood--seven months prior.  And that is hard stuff, and it was hard in spite of the fact that I already had one beautiful daughter.  Because she was supposed to have been a sister too, one month away from welcoming her new sibling into the family.  And not only was that not going to happen, but my womb remained painfully empty too.  A happy, but also kind of sad, Mother's Day to me.


I didn't begrudge Mother's Day, not to any one--and I hope I never will.  When I was grieving our losses, I tried to be extra grateful for the joy of new life experienced by friends and family.  When I felt discouraged and wondered if I'd ever be pregnant again, I discovered what a miracle it truly is, this participating with God in the creation of souls...and as such should never be taken for granted or, even worse, permanently cast aside.

Returning to the article, I must admit that I laughed out loud when she spoke about the implied superiority of mothers.  Because I don't know any mamas who engage in delusional thinking that says they are better than everyone else!  We don't automatically have the corner on self-sacrifice or martyrdom or sainthood and, if anything, are hyper-aware of our faults and shortcomings.  Children have a funny way of bringing those out--in fact, I'd probably think I was a pretty good person were it not for the many small people tracking mud into my home and forgetting to flush the toilet.  Let's just say the Church won't be making a case for my canonization anytime soon.

But we do have a pretty amazing role to play in the world, and there's nothing remotely self-righteous about acknowledging that.  This unique gift which extends far beyond the simple act of giving birth, this raising and shaping of human beings--that doesn't always feel fulfilling and, if I'm honest, can actually feel slightly miserable at times--is nothing short of a miracle.   

It's not about being exclusive.

It's not about rubbing salt in wounds.

It is about embracing womanhood in its most amazing of biological ways, and extolling the simple but profound virtue of openness to life: the idea that when we take up the vocation of marriage, our love is actually manifested in the physical form of a new little being. 

And of course not all of us are called to be mothers--or to be married for that matter.  Many dear women, for example, have given themselves over to God completely as consecrated religious.  This vocation is just as selfless, just as deserving of honor and praise, and equally representative of the wholeness of womanhood.  These ladies point towards something we mothers will only achieve in the future, utter oneness with Jesus (as they serve Him as a spouse).  Not to mention, they are available to be spiritual mothers to us and to our children and serve as an incredible, astounding example of a life given away for the love of God.

They are embodying the other facet of Mary's holiness: her perpetual virginity.

And, of course many women struggle with infertility--a cross I will never understand this side of Heaven--but they are no less life-affirming, and I am certain that God is using these dear souls for some incredible, important purpose.

And so as the culture marches forward in its oppression of womanhood, underscoring the idea that liberation comes in the form of the suppression of biological and God-given realities, I am grateful for that one, measly day on the calendar--when even the most secular of societies acknowledges that there is dignity in the work of motherhood, and that living out God's design for marriage is worthy of beauty and honor.

And yes, this probably puts me in the minority. 

Because I suspect that the Salon article resonated with many, many people.  And hear me when I say I certainly don't think everyone has to observe Mother's Day--though I must admit it's kind of fun getting a bunch of cheesy, handmade cards from my kids.  And I also don't want to gloss over the fact that there are countless women who did have a painful Mother's Day this past weekend.  I kind of suspect we all will at some point.  It's a little like giving birth, really--the pain with the beauty that is remembering a mother who is gone now, or the grief in longing for a child who is lost or not coming.  Or the dashed expectations that creep in when you realize that being a mom isn't always particularly fulfilling, and that sometimes a dirty diaper is really, just, well, a dirty diaper

I pray that God will bring these dear, precious women comfort and peace in the waiting and tensions of life.  I pray that family and friends will be sensitive to their circumstances.

But I must respectfully also add that I believe the author of the Salon article missed the mark.  Hallmark holiday or not, womanhood and motherhood are worthy of holding a significant place in the culture--rather, they must--because for a society to flourish, women and men must live out their given vocations in dignity, in accordance with God's beautiful design and natural law.

This is what frees us.

This is what is decidedly liberating.

This is what builds a society.

So if nothing else, may Mother's Day compel us to embrace new life and to honor the miracle of womanhood--whether we have children ourselves or not, whether we have living mothers or not.  Because when God created Woman, He gave the world an incredible gift.  And when Mary Ever-Virgin said yes to God at the Annunciation, she went on to give birth to Jesus--ushering eternal life into the world.

And that is why I don't hate Mother's Day.

Monday, May 14, 2012

In which I want to buy a farm

When you drive from Colorado to Wisconsin--passing through Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota along the way--you see a lot of farms.  A lot of nothingness.  A lot of land.  And silos and cattle and fields and sweet little farm houses.

Which I actually find kind of exciting.  Because I don't normally see these things when I'm hauling my kids around.  Farmland is not part of our daily landscape and we Heldts are anything but off the grid--we live in a city, our modest home being less than five minutes from Safeway, Walgreens, the original Chipotle, and a slew of other business establishments.  While our neighborhood is not particularly urban in style, it's not suburban either, and there are definitely no traces of rural living in sight.

And I really kind of love the city.

But every time I'm away from it, every time I find myself entering another world where people live differently than me, I am positively captivated by the bright red barns and grazing  horses and fields of crops.  I have no desire to work the land per se (I have never successfully kept a plant alive in all my life, and oh my goodness farmers work hard!), but I do love the idea of owning land--where my kids could spill out our front door and explore and climb trees from dawn till dusk.  Where I could maybe even achieve my lifelong dream of owning a horse or two.  Where life is, well, kind of simple.

They say the grass is always greener, and maybe if I lived in Nowhere, Nebraska I'd be longing for a McMansion in Omaha.  There are pros and cons to just about every living situation and I'm no fool--rural life has the potential to be less convenient, with fewer late-night ice cream runs.  Life is full of trade-offs.  I know this.

But I also know I'm not completely alone in my ponderings.  City versus country living has actually been a topic of great discussion among Christians for centuries.  Which I find kind of fascinating, this idea that where you live--and put down roots--has the potential to encompass philosophical and theological concepts and, as a result, implications.  I certainly don't think one is automatically superior to the other, but I do think there's something to it all. 

As much as I love the idea of having a few acres, who knows if we'll ever actually leave the city for a more rural lifestyle?  My husband thinks I'm slightly ridiculous and I think he just hasn't caught the vision yet.  I secretly kind of like moving (not the lifting of heavy furniture, but experiencing new places), and he does not.  I'm addicted to looking at houses online ("Oh look at this one!  A 7-acre horse property with an arena!!!!"), and he rolls his eyes couldn't care less.   

So I have a feeling that we'll be remaining within the Denver city limits for some time.

But don't think I won't be reading the biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or ordering books with titles like Apostolic Farming, all the while scheming about how I'm going to convince Kevin to buy us that 7-acre horse property.  Because we TOtally need an arena, and a place to park an RV.

Meanwhile Kevin will be running to the grocery store for something I forgot to buy, and stopping by Chipotle to satisfy my sudden craving for a vegetarian burrito.

He wouldn't be able to do that if we lived rurally, see.

But I'd have a cute red barn and the ability to pretend that I'm a farmer.  Which is all kinds of cool.

So what about you--does anyone else have more than an itty-bitty crush on rural living? 

Or am I the only person who actually gets excited driving through Iowa?  :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How I met their mother: a story of hope

I originally shared this post on Mother's Day last year, and am sharing it again today.

My children prayed that we'd find her, when we went to Ethiopia.

Really we've been praying for her, by name, for years.

When we set off for Yosef and Biniam's birth country just three weeks ago, we didn't know if this woman was even alive.

She relinquished her twin babies nearly seven years ago.

We didn't know if we'd be able to locate her.

But we promised our children we'd try. 

We would try to find Yosef and Biniam's birth mother.

The social worker at Layla House called a fellow social worker in my sons' hometown.  Who set out on foot, searching for a woman with a now-8-year-old daughter...who used to have twin sons.

Someone in the neighborhood recognized the name of the daughter.  Didn't know anything about baby boys, but led the social worker to the mother's home.

And it was her.

The very next day, we left Mary with friends and made the trip to Nazret, where my sons come from.  The drive was hot...dusty...long.  It was the day before Good Friday, a national holiday, so traffic was extra bad.  (Think tons of cars crowding the road, various semi-trucks coming at you head-on, and plenty of exhaust fumes.)

The drive took us through primarily rural areas, which were actually quite beautiful.  We saw some wild camels.

Finally though, we reached the city of Nazret, or Adama.  Not nearly as dynamic or bustling as Addis Ababa.

We picked up the social worker who'd located my sons' birthmom the night before.

Turned down a dirt road.

Parked the van, and stepped into a dusty neighborhood filled with many, many "homes"--tiny mud structures, each not much bigger than a walk-in closet, with crooked, corrugated tin doors and roofs.

There were skinny cows and horses, sheep and goats randomly walking around.

It smelled bad.

No running water to be found.

Flies everywhere.

Finally we reached a door, and the social worker knocked. 

And out she stepped, into the sunlight.

This woman who gave my sons life and who has both graced and haunted our minds and hearts for as long as we've known her story.  For over five years we have wondered and hoped and dreamed that we would one day meet face to face.

And, she was stunning.

Absolutely Beautiful.

Super tiny.  (I looked like a giant next to her.)

And, I saw my sons.

Right there, in this stranger's face.

Yosef's smile, and his eyes.  His skin.

Biniam's eyebrows.  His height.

The woman appeared to be nervous.  And we shook her hand, told her through a translator that we were pleased to meet her. 

Because what else do you say?

As she beckoned us into her humble home, flies swarmed around, and it was hot, and suddenly half the neighborhood was pressing in to see who these sweaty ferenges were.

She told us she hadn't slept at all the night before, so worried we might not come afterall.

We quickly presented her with current photos of our sons.  Her sons.

She wept.  And kissed the pictures.  Held them to her heart.  Told us she'd feared they were dead.  And that she was shocked to hear from the social worker that the boys had been adopted, and that their parents were coming to see her.

We assured her that Yosef and Biniam are well.  Thriving.  Loving, sweet boys who adore school and who pray for her

And then there was her daughter, her oldest child.

Shy, beaming, radiant, this girl.  She had a laugh and a face like Yosef.  She is a Compassion child, with a sponsor and everything.  A bright student.  Full of life.

And there was the new baby girl, just eight months old.  Chubby and sweet and the spitting image of Biniam.  Skin, facial features, hair.  It was like looking at my son through a time machine.

I sat, drinking it all in.  Completely unreal.  And as I did everything within my power to resist batting away the flies, I studied this woman, and listened to the sad account of her mere twenty days with my sons.  Our sons.  Back when they were only her sons. 

They were sick, hungry, unhappy.  She was alone, and had no food for them.  This snapshot in time, this series of days in her life, was too overwhelming.  So she took the boys to a government office and did what must have felt impossible to do.  She relinquished them with the hope that someone, somewhere, would adopt them one day, if they survived.

She never named them.

We also met my sons' aunt, and cousin, a girl of about twelve.  Sweet as could be.

Then their dear birthmom led us down a path to show us the house where Yosef and Biniam were born.

My sons, literally born on the floor in this itty bitty place.  The one with the door on the left.

My emotions were all over the map.  They still are.

This was the life my sons would have had.  This was where they were born.  This was their first mom.

And, she loved them.  She loves her children.  This much was evident.  You don't need a job, or a car, or much of anything really to have a deep, abiding love for your children.  She's a good mama.  Who cares if she's poor, even by Ethiopian standards.

And yet, six years ago, she really had nothing.  Less than nothing.  She felt unable to keep her sons alive, and so she gave them away.

She told us that not a day has gone by when she hasn't thought of them, and prayed for them.

I believe her.

Somewhere along the way Kevin told her that we love the same Jesus.  And that we look forward to Heaven when we can all be together again.

I just sat and looked up at the posters on her walls. 

And somewhat unsuccessfully fought back the tears.  I wondered if she ever felt like Jesus had let her down.  I wondered if those words on her wall gave her hope, or if some days they seemed more like a slap in the face, a cosmic joke.

And then I felt frustrated with myself for even wondering that, for pitying the poor simply because they had little.  This 25-year-old woman carried herself with more dignity and grace than I will ever have.  All you had to do was look at her daughters to see the riches that she has.

Then as Kevin played catch with her oldest daughter--my sons' sister--using a stone he found on the ground, I wondered what my sons' birthmom thought of us.  She said she was relieved to see us.  That she was touched we came all that way to see her.  But did she feel...wistful?  let down?  embarrassed?

I will say that this dear woman believes with everything that is in her that she could not have cared for those two children, at that time.  She felt she had no choice.  And she was relieved to meet us and learn the fate of her long-lost twin sons.

This woman's living conditions would seem deplorable to us.  But it is all she knows.  It is all that many know.  She was dignified, beautiful, and proud.  And her sweet girls seemed happy and filled with child-like joy.  I suppose my grief ultimately came from witnessing brokenness (in this case, a family torn apart) that yes, often comes as a result of living in an impoverished society.  (Though it doesn't have to.)  Lack of safety one to turn to when your babies are hungry and their father is gone.  We see this all the time in our own country, if only we look.

By the time we left her home to head back to Addis (oh how I hated to leave!), she seemed as if a weight had been lifted.  She seemed at ease.  Like maybe she'd experienced a little bit of closure that day.  I think we both did, actually.  But mostly her. 

We hugged and kissed our goodbyes outside of her home.  Then the social workers and Kevin and I turned to walk to the van. 

Wordlessly, she followed.

She and her two beautiful daughters.  Yosef and Biniam's birthmom and sisters.  Walking side by side, with us.  No words, not even the same language to bind us together, yet we walked alongside one another as if we were old friends.  I think perhaps we all knew that something huge had transpired that day.

The three of them bid us goodbye yet again when we got to the car.  We drove off.  They waved to us with smiles until we were quite literally out of sight.  They'd wanted to see us off.

And that's when our tears began to flow freely.

In part because I don't know if we'll see these precious ones again this side of Heaven.

I'd like to think that we will.  I'd like to think that some day, when my sons are a little older, we can take them back and they can meet their mother and sisters and aunt and cousin for themselves.  I believe we owe it to all of them to try.

I have to tell you that the very moment we stepped through our front door last week, home from our long trip, our four oldest children were asking "Did you find her?  Did you find her?!"  Yes they they were glad to see Mom and Dad again, but it was obviously our sons' birthmom that was on their sweet, tender hearts.

We were able to tell them "yes".

That God had heard our prayers.  That she is alive and well.  That Yosef and Biniam also have two adorable sisters in Ethiopia.  And extended family, too.

That we were able to pass on the boys' messages to their birthmom. 

Biniam had wanted us to tell her that she's beautiful.

We did.

Yosef wanted her to know that we are all so happy to meet her.

She does.

We can tell them that she wears a cross around her neck, and has Jesus on her walls.  That she loves her babies--all four of them--to pieces.  Her life is downright difficult, and always has been, and far more painful than the sting of poverty are the piercing wounds of giving away one's children out of sheer desperation.

This experience of meeting her was profoundly beautiful, and profoundly painful.

I have to continue to tell myself that God sees each and every tear that falls.  Oh how I long for the day when Jesus will set all things right.  The day when parents and children won't be separated any longer.

I continue to find myself picturing the way she smiles proudly with her daughters, and I think about how they're a family.  In the midst of poverty, brokenness and loss, there is hope for Heaven and hope for healing.  There is a renewed hope that the twin baby boys fighting for life nearly seven years ago have a future, because of a nineteen year old's sacrifice.  There is hope in the joy of a new baby to love and to cherish.

And so I find myself thanking Jesus for the gift of hope this Mothers Day. 

Especially when I see my sons smile, or furrow their brows just-so.

Because when they do, I find myself staring into the beautiful face of their birthmother, waving goodbye.

It is the face of hope.  And my life is forever changed for having seen it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wisconsin road trip

A house driving down the road, somewhere in Minnesota.

You take semi-spontaneous cross-country roadtrips with your seven kids too, right?


Well, I do.

My husband's dear grandfather just recently passed away, and his funeral was held in Wisconsin this past Wednesday afternoon.  We of course live in Colorado--which makes for a bit of a trek--but Kevin received time off for bereavement so we were blessed to be able to attend, long drive and all.

This may surprise you, but every single one of my kids actually loves a good road trip.  As in, they are deliriously happy anytime we load up the van and set off into the sunset. 

Sunrise, technically, since we generally leave super duper early in the morning.

And to be honest, I kind of love road trips myself.  Once all the laundry and packing and general prep is done, I enjoy getting to spend all those mostly-uninterrupted hours with my husband--chatting, indulging in junk food, and having an adventure.  And the kids do GREAT in the car so no real problems there.

This was actually our maiden voyage roadtripping it with all seven kids in our big, huge van

And it kind of rocked. 

Because it turns out that aside from the unfortunate gas consumption (that van is one thirsty beast!), big passenger vans are officially the best cars ever for roadtripping.  Lots of space for people and room for luggage.  Love.

We really did have a great trip, enjoyed reconnecting with family, and I think Mekdes and Tigist proved themselves to be true Heldt kids as they survived--and loved--their first-ever Heldt Family Cross-Country Excursion.

I'll share more about our time there--and a really fun stop we made on the way home--soon!  But for now it's time to get caught up on laundry, homeschool my kids, and attempt to get back into the swing of things around here.  As always, it's great to get away (even for just a few days), and great to come home!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Down syndrome at the table

Mekdes and Tigist leaving the orphanage.  For good.

It's been a little over seven months now since our two Ethiopian daughters came home and joined our family.

And if you've read my blog for any length of time then you know my sweet girlies have Down syndrome, which basically amounts to some developmental delays, heart defects, and the desire to give out hugs and kisses to everyone they meet.

I've honestly been surprised to discover that bringing home two adopted children with Trisomy 21 has not been much different (so far) than adopting children without a genetic disorder.  My sons came home at 16 months of age back in 2006, and one of them was not walking yet, and neither boy talked for quite some time.  Both of them have had challenges along the way (learning delays, ADHD, sleep apnea, low stress tolerance).  Apparently early childhood trauma affects brain function--who knew?  (Of course as my girls grow, the cognitive gap will widen, but that's okay too.)

Yet as international adoption has increased in popularity (primarily in Evangelical Christian circles), I've noticed that there remains little focus within the mainstream adoption community on children living with developmental delays.  Yes there is some, but there is disproportionately little.

Why is this voice not being represented?  Is it because we adoptive parents want to believe that if we adopt a neurotypical child, the road will be smooth with no bumps at all?  That our child will assimilate effortlessly into our family?  That lack of nutrition, a revolving door of caregivers and the potential for past abuse and neglect will not manifest itself somehow in our kids from the hard places?

A post-institutionalized child will struggle, no matter how healthy or "typical" they are.  There will be obstacles to overcome and some days will be hard.  You will question what you always thought you knew about parenting as you look at your friends raising their two biological children, because your life is a whole heck of a lot more complicated than it used to be.

Orphan care ought to first and foremost be about speaking out for children in need.  Period.  And the inconvenient truth of it all is that many of these children have Cerebral Palsy...HIV...autism...Hep B...Down syndrome.  And it's true that with every one of these labels comes a set of challenges, medical bills, and sleepless nights. 

But the other inconvenient truth is that "healthy" children have labels too, they're often just hidden.  And these labels don't discriminate between "healthy kids" and the "special needs kids."

They are things like attachment challenged...PTSD...ADHD...traumatized...sexually abused...learning delayed.

When we adopt a child out of an orphanage, we embark on a journey of raising a small person with some big--and unique--needs. 

And that's why I don't understand why voices speaking out for children with genetic disorders or other developmental issues are so underrepresented at conferences and adoption agencies and, quite honestly, at the adoption table in general.  They're informally designated as a small subset of the adoption scene, and interested families are relegated to the category of Saintly Prospective Adoptive Parents.  Who pretty much have to navigate the complex system alone if they want to pursue the adoption of a developmentally delayed child.

Oh how I would love to see workshops and keynote addresses offered that specifically address the dire situation that these most vulnerable of waiting children face, and what you and I can do to help. 

Oh how I wish more people were being armed with information over schmalz, and facts over feel-good rhetoric.  No glossing over challenges or difficulties or the most-asked question "Will your kids need to live with you forever?"  No ignoring the fact that these children may have profound and lifelong needs.

No, it should be told the way it is.  The truth.   

But there would also be a lot of cute anecdotes and why-yes-you-can-adopt-two-children-who-will-have-three-heart-surgeries-within-three-months-of-coming-home-and-live-to-tell-about-it.

Because, simply, that is LIFE. 

And these kids deserve a shot at one.

And this story needs to be told, so even though I'm not a fancy, sought-after presenter on the adoption conference circuit, I will use my small corner of the interwebz to say that if you are considering an international adoption, PLEASE consider adopting a waiting child with medical needs and/or developmental delays.

I have adopted two of them myself.

They both have Down syndrome.

They have both had heart surgery.

One of them has had open heart surgery.

They may live in our home as adults.

Or, they may not.

They have some developmental delays.

But they are developing.

They are so sweet.

And they are so stubborn.

And they are children.  Created in God's image.  Relinquished by birth mothers who could and/or chose not to parent.  Which meant that they lived in an orphanage for two years and that they needed a family.  Both precious girls were at incredibly high risk for abuse and neglect--and will be throughout their lives. 

But they are safe now. 

And I want other children to find safety too.

So please remember that these kids matter, and make room at the adoption table for orphans with developmental delays.  Lives are depending on it.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Traffic court attempt

Please tell me that lame things happen to you sometimes too.  Pretty please?

Because yesterday afternoon was beyond lame--total traffic court fail (remember this unfortunate incident?), due to the clerk on the phone giving me bad information that the (rude) clerk at the courthouse denied.  Thus I did not successfully complete traffic court, meaning that I wasted an afternoon and oh, did I mention I'd arranged for my mom to watch my seven children while my dad drove me there and back?  So yeah, I wasted their afternoon too.

And now I have to go back to actually, well, attend traffic court.


But, it could have been worse.

Because I got to visit this beautiful building--not too shabby for a traffic violation!

While surrounded by the sights of downtown Denver.  I love the city.

I got to read more in this amazing biography about Mother Angelica while waiting for my dad to pick me up.

While wearing some fun flats.

Sometimes life's inconveniences really make me mad.  That being said, I really shouldn't dwell on them because, oh my goodness, my life is good.  Really, really good.  I detest hassles and having my time wasted, but in the grand scheme of things, even a stressful visit to the courthouse pales in comparison to how much I really kind of love my happy little existence.

But I don't love traffic court.

And I'll be glad when it's done.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A new leaf

Coffee is my friend--especially Ethiopian macchiatos.  And especially when I'm sleep-deprived in Ethiopia, as I was in this photo.

If there's one thing that has eluded me actually continues to do so--it is the discipline of waking early, and getting a head start on my day.

I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom--and truth be told I prefer rolling out of bed at a cozy 7:45 in the morning.  My kids usually rise right around then too, so I'm encountering all sorts of small, energetic, banana-eating people as I stumble towards my coffeepot.

The thing is, I'm a big fan of doing what works.  And up until this point, starting my day at 8 am worked magnificently.  We're generally home during the day, which means plenty of hours available for all of the things we need to accomplish.  None of my kids are particularly early risers, and it's worked.

But now there's this little issue of the blog.  Which has been growing lately and I actually have some pretty exciting (okay, REALLY exciting if they actually come to pass) opportunities ahead.  And as I'm starting to think about my goals and such, I'm becoming increasingly aware that, um, well...this writing thing requires time.  And discipline.  Kind of like a job.  And there just plain AREN'T enough hours in my waking-up-at-8-am-day to school my children, keep up with friends, maintain my home, prepare nutritious meals for my family, and write.

So what THAT means is...gulp...I need to start waking up earlier.

I've decided that my writing, blogging, and answering emails will be primarily relegated and confined to the early morning hours.  Because otherwise, I inevitably wind up sneaking in computer time while my kids are making a huge mess eating breakfast, or in between teaching math and leading copywork exercises.  It simply doesn't work.  It stresses me out.  It makes me crazy.  And I've been operating this way for months now, and I hate it.  And of course evenings should be spent relaxing, enjoying my husband's company, and reading good books--NOT clacking away on the keyboard.

But quite frankly--and I know this makes me some sort of loser wimp--the prospect of committing to an early wake-up time is utterly terrifying to me.  Perhaps because I am positively certain that my entire day will consequently be spent slogging around, pining for those lost two hours of slumber. 

Because you can't get those hours back, you know!

Yet the rational part of my brain says that, realistically, my day ALways goes better when I wake a little earlier--and when I don't sit on the computer during the hours I should be schooling my children or doing my laundry. 


I figure a reasonable goal to start with is...wait for it...6:45.  I know, I know, that probably sounds ridiculous to all you bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed early birds out there, but it sounds downright intimidating to me.

But maybe this will revolutionize my life.

Or maybe it won't.

Maybe it'll be a major fail.

Either way I'll let you know how my great big get-up-early experiment goes.

And in the meantime, how about you?  What time do you wake up?  And has anyone else out there made the big leap from non-morning-person to early riser? 


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