An imperfect Lent

Originally Appeared in : 9908-4/11/19

One of my favorite pictures from the trip Paul and I took to the Holy Land was the very first picture I snapped. Paul and I, smiling into the camera: I’m holding a glass of champagne — and we both have gigantic Ash Wednesday ashes on our foreheads.


We had just found the chapel at the international terminal and walked in to find a priest waiting with ashes for all interested parties. It was a happy moment. We were heading out for a full day of travel (nine hours to Frankfurt and another four to Tel Aviv), and while sipping champagne on Ash Wednesday was terribly un-Lenten, I had a glass just the same.


The champagne wasn’t necessarily medicinal, but perhaps just a tad. Plenty of people use a little medication to fly, and my glass of bubbly was a little bit of that. We were leaving our six children for 10 days. We were flying across an ocean. I had spent weeks working on a finely-tuned clearly-articulated road map for the next 10 days and I was a little worn out from all the pre-pilgrimage planning frenzy. I was so glad to be ready to take off and get the trip started.


But more than this, the glass of champagne was a celebration. There was so much to be happy and grateful for. We were leaving on this epic trip, traveling with one of our dearest friends (and many others who would become dear to us by the end), and leaving our six children at home.


I wasn’t celebrating leaving the kids (though getting away with your spouse is always something to celebrate). I was celebrating that we were able to leave them. Our oldest son was in charge and I was grateful for his willingness to watch our crew. I was also grateful that he was at a place in life where we felt like we could leave him in charge. I was grateful that our younger children were able to be handled by their older brother. Family life can be complicated, and it was not lost on me the luxury and blessing of children who really do love each other enough to behave for each other.


Perhaps the thought of ushering in the Lenten season with a celebration seems too much. Perhaps it’s inappropriate or wrong. Maybe I should have sat in a chair quietly instead of going over to the bar to order champagne. But I didn’t. There I was with the biggest ashen smudge (so noticeable that the bartender asked what we had on our foreheads), because I wanted to toast what God had done for me and Paul, and for me very personally.


When Isabel was almost one (eight years ago), I had never flown on an airplane by myself. In fact, I had gotten to a point where flying was downright terrifying for me. I even went through a really terrible season where driving down the highway was terrifying for me. I had anxiety and fear so overwhelming and intense that I only felt safe in my home. Leaving my house was something I had to do but never my favorite thing to do. I would always have to make sure I had cold water and an escape route when getting on a busy road. For years I struggled with this level of anxiety until I decided I needed to get the tools to overcome it.


Some of those tools were practical mental shifts. I learned about my brain and how to stop panic. I also started to pay attention to all kinds of practical matters like how much caffeine I drank (and how Diet Coke caused problems for me). Little by little, I started getting better, but there were several years that were downright exhausting for me. And then, just before Isabel’s first birthday, I got asked to speak at a retreat that required me to fly alone. I had never done that, and while a lot of my daily anxiety had dissipated, I still had some big areas (flying, for instance) that made me really nervous.


But I pushed through and got on that plane, and it started a whole new world of overcoming fears that might seem silly to you but were pretty epic for me.
In the years since that first solo plane ride, I’ve traveled alone many times. Now flying doesn’t scare me — but I still remember all the years when it did. And I still, without fixating too much, remember those years when anxiety and panic were a part of my daily life.


So that Ash Wednesday, sitting in the airport bar in very un-Lenten fashion, I toasted God’s goodness to me. His kindness. His faithfulness. He has answered so many prayers and helped me overcome so much. Leaving my children and heading overseas — that once felt unthinkable. To not just endure that experience but have an absolute blast in the midst of it?


That was certainly worth toasting.



Rachel Balducci is a wife and mother of six. She and her husband Paul are members of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Augusta, GA. Her latest book, Make My Life Simple, is available on Amazon.


Go to top