Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Today I'm writing at Ignitum Today and, surprisingly, talking about celebrities. So head on over!
Posted by Brianna Heldt at 9:29 AM
Friday, October 26, 2012
I had the opportunity this week to appear (via telephone) on a live radio show from Alabama. I've never done an interview like that before, and I have to admit it was a blast! Not only did my spotty cordless phone not die, I also didn't completely humiliate myself. So I'll call it a success.
The truth is of course that anytime I have the chance to share publicly about adoption, openness to life, my faith, or my journey into the Catholic Church, I am equal parts eager and humbled to do so. Eager because it is a joy and privilege to advocate for things close to my heart, and humbled because people often make a big deal about what our family is doing.
So I've been thinking about this over the past few days because while I understand that my story is relatively unusual in most circles, in the day-to-day I don't see myself as doing anything out of the ordinary. In fact, you can bet that if you're a mom, you and I pretty much do the same things on any given day: shopping for groceries, preparing meals, tucking little ones in at night, bemoaning the fact that babies grow up too fast, and worrying about how this or that child is going to turn out, come adulthood. I bake cupcakes and take my kids to Mass, I give time-outs and occasionally yell. I'm just an everyday mom.
The only difference between us is that perhaps I have a few more children than you do, or maybe your kids didn't have a combined total of three heart surgeries this past year.
And apparently those are the things that make for radio broadcasts. :)
But here's the thing: no adoptive parent, least of all me, believes they are doing Big Huge Things. When it comes to adoption (and parenting in general), we're really just doing a combination of the really small things--like changing diapers, wiping noses, and offering a shoulder to cry on when little feelings are hurt. My life really is just life, with some extra challenges like kids with ADHD or developmental delays thrown in. Oh, and I drive the world's biggest car that I am hopelessly unable to parallel park. No big deal.
It's funny too because I used to really believe that the world is primarily changed by Very Impressive People doing Big Huge Things, and that I should aspire to that. (Not that I even came close--I assure you I didn't.) But you know what?
Saint Therese of Lisieux is one of my all-time favorite saints, in large part because she did small things, generally unnoticed, but all the while growing in holiness and devotion to Jesus. A young nun who didn't live an outwardly noteworthy life, her writings are incredibly profound, and her "little way" now inspires Christians the world over. And Blessed Mother Teresa? While best known for her compassionate tending to the sick and dying, she too wrote and spoke primarily of the little things, about loving and serving those in your very home. While she was indeed recognized for her work during her lifetime, that work was comprised of small, difficult, menial tasks in the forgotten corners of Calcutta.
And I am discovering in my own life that saying "yes" to God amounts not to grand and sweeping actions, but to a series of seemingly small and unseen tasks. And it's hard. But beautiful too.
See, there's a reason that we mothers are so often discouraged--and also why adoption is one of the greatest blessings I've been given. 21st-century Americans have a natural disdain for the small things, the things that "hold us back" and keep-us-from-really-accomplishing-something for Jesus. I once read a book, in fact, that claimed being an at-home mom was depriving God of using our gifts and talents for more important work. (Clearly this book was not written by a Catholic.)
But as an adoptive mom, I know the importance of treasuring the mundane and embracing the normal, of savoring the days at home with peanut butter and jelly and Sesame Street. My adopted children didn't always have these days, so I rejoice in the littlest of breakthroughs--like when my five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome (and likely Cerebral Palsy) ran for the first time, off-balance and all. It is the little things in life that we are made for; these are the things that nourish and grow the soul, and these are the things that define motherhood.
So while I love sharing my story in hopes of encouraging others, I also want people to know that the things I do on a daily basis are infinitely small.
And that people who begin the process to adopt a waiting child are not saints. They are not super-human. They do not have infinite patience or perfectly organized closet spaces. They do not consider amassing large amounts of mismatched socks to be a life-goal. They don't think changing parasite-filled diapers is the most fun thing ever nor do they somehow have a greater capacity for love or charity or mercy.
They are merely people. Stepping out in faith to meet a need, and to receive a precious and vulnerable child, yes...but that act will not ultimately culminate in the satisfaction that comes from winning a Nobel Peace Prize.
It will culminate in the daily grind. And in a completely humbling self-perception and awareness, amidst diapers and meal prep and mountains of laundry to be folded. And maybe a bigger car that you don't take downtown very often, because of the aforementioned parallel parking situation.
So I find it incredibly encouraging (and freeing) to remind myself that God chose me for the small things: making jello for my daughter when she has a sore throat, cleaning messes off the floor, and sitting at a newly-adopted child's bedside in the Cardiac ICU. My call is not to be some high-energy Really Great Person, but to put one foot in front of the other each day in an attempt to love my family through word and deed. It is my "yes" to God, and it's small--the biggest thing about it being that it forces me to see outside of myself, and has the potential to bring forth virtue in my life.
Saint Therese of Lisieux once penned the following: God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens.
One of the most beautiful and true things ever written, in my opinion.
Because it reflects the idea that God is working faithfully in our souls, and delights in our doing small things with great love. I may have a baseball-team's worth of children, four of them adopted, two of them born with medical and developmental needs...but at the end of the day?
I'm simply a mother.
Doing small motherly things, while hopefully growing in great love.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Saint Thecla, miraculously protected from being eaten by lions.
Of course having seven kids, we also regularly have many an ear listening in on our adult conversations. (Fourteen ears to be exact, and sixteen if you count the two newest ears.) They occasionally overhear us discussing topics like religious freedom, the HHS mandate, best practices in helping the poor, tax rates, marriage and abortion. And, sometimes they have questions.
I consider it a distinct (albeit weighty!) privilege to be in the position of shaping my kids' early views on these subjects. I reject the notion that it is better to say nothing for eighteen years and let them eventually choose their "own" way--because in the absence of a solid reason otherwise, people generally default to the prevailing views of the culture. A parent's silence will indicate that the issues don't matter, or that there is no moral/reasoned component to those issues. And children are looking to us for guidance, so in saying nothing we are saying something. They will indeed need to make decisions for themselves, but the early years of a child's life are intended by God for formation and training in virtues and faith.
That is not to say that children should be robbed of childlike innocence and a carefree existence. We do not watch the national or local news in our home, I do not inform my kids of every single global disaster, and they are by all accounts fairly sheltered.
But as parents, I do believe it is our duty to form our childrens' consciences and help them learn how to think through things from a Catholic (or historically Christian) perspective. This means finding age-appropriate ways of discussing things related to sin, sexuality, and life--which is actually quite possible and much easier than I thought it would be.
We recently read about Saint Thecla at the dinnertable. A convert from paganism in the first century, she was nearly martyred twice for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, and serves as a beautiful example of bravery in the face of religious persecution. We talked with our kids about how while none of us have been called to martyrdom, we do have the opportunity (and duty) to stand for Jesus in smaller but still important ways. Choosing to do good, rejecting the temptation to sin, and not denying Christ before men are all ways we can, within our own cultural context, exemplify bravery and allegiance to God. And if we can cultivate these virtues in the small things, we will at least be prepared to live them out in bigger ways.
The conversation also turned to politics. We explained that sometimes taking a stand for truth and love is uncomfortable. Sometimes it means having people think bad things about us. And it isn't always fun. We picked a couple of current issues, and explained why the Church believes what she does about them, and why that is offensive to some people.
It is easy to underestimate a child's ability to synthesize and process information. It's true that kids tend to see the world in black-and-white, simple terms, but honestly? That can be an incredible advantage. We must of course take extra care to emphasize love and respect for each and every person regardless how they differ from our family, but the receptivity of children is a God-given gift that we must protect and nurture. We ought not take for granted, for example, a child's inborn sense of justice and apprecation for the natural law.
The way you conceptualize and live your faith will, without exception, influence how you conceptualize issues and how you vote. Even if you insist the two are separate. Many argue that Jesus has nothing to do with what happens in the public sphere, but try telling that to Saint Thecla, or the many men and women throughout history who were martyred by the state for refusing to renounce Christ, or to be complicit in sin. Something tells me they would have a different perspective.
I know I say this a lot, but I'm saying it again: I am increasingly grateful for the timeless and simple truths held and preserved by Christ's Church, for the graces we receive through the Sacraments, and for the many saints who serve as good (though challenging!) examples of how to follow Jesus. No need to reinvent the wheel every few years or deconstruct one's faith to the point where there is nothing left but doubt, and an acceptance of whatever the current cultural trend is. Instead, it is simply Jesus, and His love for us and for the world. Even amidst such a polarized and polemical cultural climate, it comes down to love for God and love for others.
And that is certainly something we can explain to our children as we form their consciences, working to express the whys behind the whats--even as it pertains to the messy business of American politics.
Posted by Brianna Heldt at 11:41 AM
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Every so often I find myself very aware that the life my children lead is, well, different.
Our family is big, it's interracial, it includes two children with Down syndrome, and my kids are all relatively close in age--by March, we'll have eight children ages nine and under. Different indeed.
The kids of course don't really know our family is atypical yet, because everything is somewhat normalized for them--we have lots of friends who have adopted, or who have four or more children. Most of our closest friends homeschool. Many of our good friends are Catholic.
Don't believe me that my kids think all of the above is perfectly normal and common? When we arrived at a family member's home recently to find a neighbor's son playing in their yard, my kids excitedly asked if they'd adopted a little boy. Because that is, you know, just another day in the life of Anytown, USA.
Now eventually my children will reach an age where they discover that it's really not all that common to own a fifteen-passenger van (short of working for a furniture delivery company). Our heart's desire is that they themselves will continue to embrace a love for life, but I am also aware that living with people--especially lots of people--requires sacrifice and hard work, and that we're not always one big happy family. Because sometimes we are, quite frankly, one big chaotic and grouchy family.
So it is extra important, I think, for families in our situation to regularly and intentionally reflect on the positive things we see happening in our homes. With more kids there is simply the potential for more drama, more tattling, and more mess, and it is thus easy to become discouraged or overwhelmed. It can be tempting for example to think the grass is greener over at so-and-so's house, or to wonder how on earth everything will possibly turn out.
My oldest child recently auditioned for a choir solo. I was honestly surprised when she told me that only a few kids in her co-op class period tried out, and she was one of them, and she stood in front of the entire class and sang by herself. She's never auditioned for anything before, much less sung alone in front of a group. And, she's eight. So that is kind of a big deal.
We were of course crazy proud of her, and told her so. But then this past week, I received an email stating that she was not selected for the part. And I admit that my heart sank a little bit because she can be shy in certain settings and had really gone out on a limb, and I'd so hoped for her to be rewarded for it.
But you know what happened when I told her that she had unfortunately not gotten the solo? She said she was disappointed. She said she felt she had done well, but had maybe sung high when she was supposed to have sung low. (Which made me laugh. The kid is just funny sometimes.) And then do you know what she said?
"Well I'm going to keep trying for this stuff until I get something!"
I admit that I was not entirely sure where her optimistic determination came from--it was really her first time facing this sort of thing. And so I initially found myself stunned by her positive, take-it-in-stride, don't-give-up attitude. But as I thought more about it later, it occurred to me that the girl is just completely and utterly confident in who she is.
And part of that is, in her case, due to being a big sister to several little ones...who positively adore her.
Not a day goes by when she doesn't get someone a sippy cup during a meal or change a diaper or have an adoring baby sister beg for her to tuck them in for naps. She regularly has multiple brothers and sisters asking her to play. No matter what kind of day she's having, there are always lots of small people looking up to her, who mostly think she can do no wrong. She has a place in this family that includes responsibility and relationships, and she knows that her work, her attitude, and her presence are needed. And appreciated. And, she knows she is loved.
Of course in the grand scheme of things, the choir is really not a huge deal. My kids only attend this program once a week for enrichment, so it's not like this is on my daughter's radar screen every single day (as compared to public school). But still it was one of those moments where I was just so incredibly humbled and encouraged because yes, big families may come with their own set of challenges, but they also come with a lot of love and opportunity for character building. God created the family unit, after all, and He will certainly be faithful to work in and through it to bring forth beauty and grace.
And what a blessing to have the occasional reminder--or seven.
Monday, October 08, 2012
Yes, we Heldts are having yet another baby girl come the end of February!
That would be biological girl number four, in case any of you were counting.
Which will bring us to a grand total of six girls altogether.
Versus our two rather lonely boys.
I had an impromptu ultrasound on Friday morning when I was in the ER for what turned out to be kidney stones. (Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds, and yes, I've had them before, and yes, they hurt). Anyway, they performed an ultrasound to rule out a problem with the baby, and the technician was able to tell me that it was a girl. Which meant that my copay and, let's face it, miserable morning were semi-redeemed by getting to find out the gender two weeks before my scheduled ultrasound.
We are, apparently, beyond predictable when it comes to birthing babies, and I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever have a biological son. It has really become quite humorous--when I called Kevin from the hospital to tell him that I'd found out the gender, and that it is a girl, again, we both began laughing hysterically.
The baby and everything else looked great, and I'll still have my OB ultrasound in a couple of weeks. And houseful o' girls or not, we are SO crazy excited to meet this precious little girl in four-ish months!
Posted by Brianna Heldt at 5:22 PM
Wednesday, October 03, 2012
So excited to share that I am now a contributing columnist over at Ignitum Today! Head on over and check it out. My first piece is up this morning, where I write a little bit about our marriage and how we came to embrace the idea of openness to life.
Ignitum Today is a great website with articles by some of today's best Catholic bloggers. I love that there is such a wide range of contributors, writing on all sorts of topics relevant to young people of faith. I'm honored to be there!
Posted by Brianna Heldt at 9:26 AM