Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Lent this year may just go down as simultaneously the most ambitious and what-were-we-thinking yet.
I have eight children--which, let’s be honest, is fairly wild in its own right regardless the liturgical season--and an old house, and several months ago my husband and I said to ourselves, “Why don’t we pretend we don’t have a bunch of small children running around everywhere, and remodel our old house?” “Yes, that seems like a fantastic idea, because our dishwasher doesn’t so much wash anymore, and as nice as the duct tape looks on the kitchen peninsula, it’s probably not a good long term solution.”
Now I’m at least self-aware enough at age 34 to know that I don’t have the bandwidth or natural ability for DIY projects. Not that I haven’t tried my hand at them before, back in my younger and wilder days. I read the blogs, bought all of the spray paints, took a swig of Diet Coke and shouted KIDS, STAY BACK!, and brought forth such lovely delights as a hideously lime green mirror and, two years ago, a clumsy Easter candle. Which, to my knowledge, was the last craft I ever attempted. If you could see it, you would understand why, but you can’t because it’s decomposing somewhere in a local landfill, no doubt alongside my various other failed projects. And a sizable collection of diapers we’ve contributed. I blame the children.
But I’m all grown up now, so I can discern when it’s prudent to call in actual professionals who have actual experience with things like drywalling and cabinet installation. Plus this remodel turned out to be quite an ordeal because we are putting the new kitchen in a different place in the house, which on the one hand is insane but on the other quite nice--because I don’t lose my present kitchen while the work is being done. It may be only semi-functioning, but it’s sure better than nothing. I think.
So here we are, consolidating our lives (and assorted belongings) into a rather small section of our home as the rest of it is under construction. We squish around a plastic picnic table for meals (or most of us do, anyhow--we don’t all fit, so some of us are banished to the aforementioned duct-taped peninsula), we do our very best to stay out of our long-suffering contractor’s way, and we run lots of errands at home improvement stores. Even though things are going well, the reality is that we’re a tiny bit displaced. Our routines have been disrupted in the pursuit of a long-term good.
At its core, this has really all been a fabulous lesson in relinquishing control. Because it turns out I’m not so good at that--who knew? I thought Lent was a good time to figure out some Things I’m Going To Do And Then Do Them, but instead it has consisted of throwing multiple kids’ birthday parties in funny parts of my house, and learning to live together in small quarters, amidst the chaos. And there’s always chaos in a house of ten people, but it’s a different sort of chaos when we’re all together nearly all of the time.
Of course it’s really not been so bad overall. I can’t complain. The work is mostly confined to one area of our home, where we don’t ever need to go. Our contractor is a friend and does great work. And oh my goodness, our new kitchen is looking beautiful. So, so worth it. Plus (and don’t tell anyone), I’ve actually really enjoyed all the extra down-time with my children, sitting at the plastic picnic table and talking and laughing about the day’s events while they do homework and I fold laundry.
Which is turning out to be, I think, my Lenten Lesson of 2016. I had what I thought my Lent should be, but God apparently just really wanted me to be available, to be present, to give away the many small moments I might otherwise have spent doing who knows what. I don’t live my Catholic faith apart, separate, or distinct from my chosen vocation. Even the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are things I can do within the four walls of my home. Something to think about, no?
Being a mother requires a seemingly unparalleled level of trust and faith in a loving and merciful God. We pour ourselves out in big and small ways (and sometimes the littlest things are the hardest!), oftentimes unable to see the fruits, but hoping--desperately hoping--that one day we will. That one day our kids will learn not only to use the toilet (and stop polluting the landfills), but to be virtuous people who know and spread the love of Jesus. Who will move beyond the sibling squabbles and it’s-not-fairs to the full and abundant life our Lord calls us to live. We hope our hugs and words of comfort and attempts at being a sounding board for All The Tween Dramas will amount to something, or if we’re honest, anything.
The most important, authentic, and powerful moments of Lent have been, it would seem, spent at my plastic picnic table. Amidst the mess, noise, and clutter of a life and family under construction. Something beautiful is happening up the stairs and behind the scenes, something far better than the broken dishwasher and taped-together cabinets (and oven--did I mention that duct tape is also featured prominently on our oven?) we have now, but in the meantime, we make do right where we are. Together. I send emails to a middle school principal addressing an issue with a substitute teacher, I watch for the school-bus bringing my sweet daughters with Down syndrome home each afternoon, and I listen to story after story that reveals what is on each of my children’s minds. We discuss music choices, holiness, and why our family does things a little bit differently than other families do. We laugh at the three year old’s antics. We celebrate accomplishments, blow out birthday candles, pray for friends having surgeries, and dream about fully functioning appliances that are right around the corner, but that we can’t actually see or use just yet.
And at the end of the day, we parents have faith. We keep hoping. Even when we mess up, can’t see the end in sight, or cry out for mercy. Thankfully God gives us small glimpses of joy and consolation along the way, if only we have eyes to see them--similar to the excitement I experience at various stages during our kitchen remodel. A dishwasher that doesn’t make our entire house smell like rotting food? Yes please!
It turns out that letting go of all my preconceived ideas and expectations apparently does wonders for my spiritual life. Shocking, I know. It’s probably not unlike how I finally abandoned all my silly wayward notions of being a competent DIY hobbyist, when that stuff is just plain not in my wheelhouse. Trying to put a square peg in a round hole has never really worked out too well for me, whether it’s spray painting thrifted junk or being a mom to eight kids.
So I am learning ever so slowly how to humbly offer myself and my yes, and let Jesus do the heavy lifting.
Hopefully one day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have a dishwasher that works and a bit more space for our large family shenanigans. In the meantime, though, I’m embracing this whole plastic picnic table and close-quarters-living thing, and discovering anew the beauties, challenges, sacrifices, and joys of being a mother.
All in all, I’d call that a pretty good Lent.