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March 28, 2014

Be still, my soul

Filed under: Chronic illness, History, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 8:56 am

I’ve had the strangest day today. Not in terms of anything remarkable happening — in fact, I was only out of bed for a combined 3 hours — but in the way I’ve felt. It had something to do with this:

Not David Archuleta (though I’m sure he’s perfectly lovely, I think I’ve heard him sing about twice in my life), but the song. I’ve written before about some songs that loom large in my life, but this is the most important one. I think I might have killed myself* a time or two if not for these words, this music that seeped into my soul at just the right moments.

I never turn down an opportunity to listen to this hymn, so when this video came across my newsfeed, I had to click on it. In the process I revisit a thousand moments: I’m on the floor in the bathroom too weak to move; I’m singing to Addison while she cries through her growing pains (she used to request “still my soul” but of course, I thought she was spelling it “steal my soul” and never could figure out who would teach her such a terrible song); I’m at the tragically beautiful funeral of one of the dearest little ones ever to grace the earth. This song simultaneously takes me back to the moments that I was giving up completely and the ones where I decided to never give up.

Each lyric has been important to me in its own time and way, but today it’s this one: “Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as he has the past.” These last several years have been a tumultuous time in my church. And these last several months have been a tumultuous time in my ward. And these last several weeks have been a tumultuous time in my life as I’m trying to figure out how to get out of bed every morning and sit upright for 7 hours a day (and then sleep afterward – it’s currently 2:00 am). But today I feel no fear. My God has delivered me and so many others from much worse than this, and I know He does undertake to guide the future just as He has the past.

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend

Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.


Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake

To guide the future as he has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know

His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.


Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.


*Have I talked about being seriously suicidal on here before? Because I’m going to. There’s no other way to explain my life. (I’ve been a little scared to do it, though I’ve danced around the topic enough that I’m sure most of you have picked up on the subtext.)

March 23, 2014

What Need Looks Like

Filed under: Personal, Personal Finance — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 8:52 pm

In the days after Neal and I finally agreed to raise our grocery budget from $145 to $200 per month, I was feeling flush with yummier things to eat. I bought a loaf of french bread to eat with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I bought a can of freeze-dried mushrooms (my friend sells these and can get reduced rates if you’re ever in the market for shelf-stable food) to rehydrate and add to some of my meals (SO much better than those water-logged canned mushrooms). Best of all, I probably went at least a week without eating any beans at all!

So I was a little surprised when I clicked on a friend’s Facebook link about a photography exhibit of “Picturing Hunger in America” and found this picture front and center:


The photos are, of course, meant to increase awareness of and empathy for the plight of low-income American families. But I couldn’t feel immediate empathy for this family, similar in size and budget, because I was too busy thinking about how Neal and I would negotiate this particular grocery list. Him crossing roast beef right off the list, while I opine about how juice is just frivolous and has too much sugar; water is so refreshing, anyway!

When I saw that picture I had to pause and contemplate whether the people I interact with, my friends and family (who sometimes joke about us starving Addison — lunch is still our Achilles’ heel), actually think that we, eating off of $50 per week, are hungry. They couldn’t possibly think that we’re going to bed with unbearably empty stomachs, right? I don’t want to downplay real pain that Americans are experiencing, but this is what hunger actually looks like, isn’t it?

This is such a complex topic. To really give context to my own reaction, I would have to talk about some of my previous work with those in poverty, my own experience on food stamps (10 or so years ago), the debate about “food deserts,” and some of the differences between being low-income vs. being in poverty (because we’re obviously low-income, but we’re nowhere near poverty-stricken). But time is my scarcest resource right now, since I started my second job almost a month ago.

In addition to teaching online, I’m now a case manager (part-time) for the family resource center in our town. I work primarily with low-income families with young children, visiting them at home, teaching parenting classes, and connecting them with whatever types of resources they need (food, shelter, insurance, government programs, legal assistance, domestic violence counseling, etc.). As much as I have felt that compassion and empathy are among my strong suits, I have to admit that I’ve already encountered situations, like the one above, in which my judgmental voice was activated far more quickly than my empathic one. It’s hard to suppress my pathological frugality when I’m daily examining others’ income and bank statements, and trying to resist asking for their projected line-item budget for the year. Someone says, We NEED this and my personal finance voice says, Are you sure that’s a need and not a want? Are you sure you’ve prioritized that need over your other wants? I think back to the first time I saw that picture above and the thoughts that ran through my head: This is not what hunger looks like; THIS is what hunger looks like. This is not what need looks like; THIS is what need looks like.

I’ve spent so long looking at incarcerated men — their needs and all the things they’ve lacked or lost — that my heart is soft for them, even without a word. I work with a different group now and I can see that my heart needs to get softer. Is it more difficult because there’s more of a resemblance there? And how to soften my heart in just the right way, so that I can still go home and leave my work at work (as if that’s ever happened!) or say no, in the kindest way possible, when that’s the only appropriate answer?

So talk to me. What helps you to activate your empathic voice, even if you have to do so in conjunction with one of judgment? I’ve found this video from Dr. Brene Brown (and her other work) very insightful . . . but what else?

March 16, 2014

February: Cook

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 11:35 pm

Does it count if my mom cooked — at my house, mind you? (So I was totally surrounded by things being cooked . . . )

Does it count if I gathered a lot of terrific recipes into a spreadsheet? (Camilla’s blog was invaluable in that process!)

What about scrawling incomplete meal plans on various scraps of paper when I had nothing else to do (or at Church; shhh, don’t tell)?

Are you guys gonna stop giving me suggestions (like I asked for here and here and here) if I never seem to put them into practice?

Part of me feels like I owe a public apology here. Especially to Kristin since she not only provided me with recipes  but also spent hours walking me through easy recipes and freezer meals several years ago! I should have been a pro after that!

Alas, the goal for February of having a workable meal plan was a bust. But I don’t want you to think there was no progress. We did manage to:

  • Spend several hours discussing grocery shopping strategies so that Neal stops coming home with only 50% of the groceries I need for any particular recipe
  • Agree to increase our grocery budget to $200/month — this is a pretty big deal if you know that for several years Neal was on a quest to spend only $100/month on groceries
  • Reorganize the kitchen cupboards into a more intuitive arrangement — also, a big deal if you know that with my love/hate relationship with food if a food item is hard to reach or the pan I need is stacked under three heavier pans, I’ll usually just head back to bed and forgo eating altogether rather than mess around with it. Sad, but true.
  • Stock our freezer with about 40 pre-cooked single serving meals so that I have a quick lunch waiting for me on my lunch break; thanks, Mom; where would I be without you? (The answer: dead from hunger several years ago — clearly, this is not the first time she’s saved the day with freezer meals.)

While Neal and I didn’t get to much cooking in February, in March we got one of our rare nights away from Addison (cousin slumber party, yay!) and chose to make a double batch of salmon patties to eat and freeze for later. I still haven’t decided if that was sensible or stupid.

So the good news: we have food in our freezer and cupboards! And I haven’t had to eat beans more than two to three times a week.

The bad news: with no ongoing meal plan, I’ll probably eventually revert back to daily tacos and then freak out when I can’t take it anymore. Stay tuned. :)

March 3, 2014

Dearest Addison, you turned four!

How do I know? Because you’ve mentioned it every ten minutes since it happened.

“I was brave when I got that cut because I’m four now.”

“I had my birthday, so I’m four.”

“I’m a preschooler since I turned four.”

“I can do a lot of hard things now, because I’m four.”

The thing is, this isn’t all just talk. A couple of weeks after you started going to Primary, they asked you to give a scripture at the podium. We practiced at home the week before, but when you stood up and looked out at all the older children, you froze. (I, on the other hand, sparkled under the pressure! Just sayin’.) But the day of your birthday you eagerly explained that you wanted to give the scripture again. You assured me, “I’m four now, so I’m brave. And I’ll just stand right up there and say it!” Sure enough, the next week, you showed no nerves at all.

There’s been other promising developments, too. Earlier this week, you interrupted your coloring to come ask dad, “Is coloring a right or a privilege?” I was so thrilled I about bounded out of bed to do the Perfect Strangers dance of joy!! (But you know, the whole getting out of bed thing, not my strong suit.) Because you’re getting it! All these concepts that some people (including strangers at the playground) have told me are a lost cause at this age are finally starting to sink in. And now you know, you better toe the line if you want crayons!

I’m also starting to see the first glimmer of hope that all my painstaking “growth mindset” talk is having an impact. On the way to the storytime this week, you said your little legs were SO tired. You didn’t know if you could make it. But then, you looked up at me and earnestly explained,  “But when something’s hard for a kid, we just have to do it. And keep doing it!” as you broke out in a run. You still run EVERYWHERE, by the way. Just today at church someone told me that they didn’t recognize you standing still because you’re always a blurry streak. (Your Primary teacher probably agrees, considering that you once fled the building without her noticing.)

Back to the growth mindset (because at least 85% of my parenting thoughts revolve around it). I’ve been worried about all the people that tell you you’re smart and how that may derail all my careful teaching about how smart isn’t what matters. But this week, when a mom at Mommy & Me proclaimed how smart you were, you wagged your instructive pointer finger at her and said,

“Smart isn’t what’s important.”

She was taken aback and confused: “It isn’t?!”

“NO! Working hard is the most important thing.”

We’ve gotta work on your approach — because wagging index fingers aren’t gonna win you any friends in the long run — but oh, my heart swelled! Thank you for listening to me despite my very obvious inability to communicate in age-appropriate ways!

And as if that weren’t enough, we had a lovely little grocery trip this week. You held the list and scribbled out each item as we put it in the cart. I’ve tried to make the point that we only buy things on our list (no impulse buys in this family!) but I had forgotten to add bread to the list. And you noticed when I picked it up. I know because about 20 minutes later as we were headed home in the car, you remarked, “You know, Mom, it’s not frugal to buy things that aren’t on the list.” I tried to explain that I had forgotten to write it, that happens sometimes, we just don’t want to make it a habit . . . but you interrupted me, “But it was only one thing so we can still be frugal.” Phew.

Rights vs. privileges — check.

Growth mindset — check.

Frugality — check.

I’m pretty sure my work here is done! And I’m pretty sure you’re one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Love to my baby girl, who is “NOT A BABY ANYMORE” (so you say),


Dearest Addison: age 1, age 2, and now 4. See daddy’s blog for reflections on age 3 (I guess I was napping that year).

February 25, 2014

The 50-cent knife

Filed under: Family, Personal, Personal Finance — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 5:15 am

“Hey Neal, what was that 73-cent charge for?”

“It looks like you spent $1.35 yesterday. What did you buy?”

“I can’t account for about 29 cents — have you bought anything lately?”

Seven years later, it’s almost hard to believe how frequently I asked Neal to account for 73 cents here and 8 cents there in the first few months of our marriage. I had been tracking every penny I earned and spent since I was 17 years old, and I didn’t see why that had to change just because I was adding another designated user to all my accounts. He’d usually chuckle a bit, but still patiently answer my questions. I was sure we were on our way to minimizing the seemingly mindless 89-cent purchases that were showing up every 5 or 6 days.

Until the day.

He’d dropped by D. I. (a thrift store) after work, as he always did (read: he must have stopped by there after work at least 7 or 8 times in the 4 years we lived in Utah — that’s like twice a year, guys!). Minutes after he walked through the door I gathered up the receipts as I always did. D. I. receipts were particularly cryptic and maddening:

  • Merchandise — small         $0.70
  • Merchandise — large         $4.00

Small merchandise. Large merchandise. That seemed to be all the specificity D. I. was equipped to provide, which is totally useless when you’re trying to figure out which budgeting category each charge should be most accurately assigned to.

Was the latest purchase a dish rack? Household — Cleaning Supplies — Durable 

A new pair of church shoes for Neal? Personal Care — Clothing — Neal

A skirt that I would begrudgingly try on? Gifts — Clothing — Attempts to Make Lindsay More Presentable

Between D. I.’s vague labels and Neal’s spotty memory, it was almost impossible to keep useful records. It was as if D. I. was purposely trying to create confusion and ambiguity so that you would feel the need to buy more things just to reestablish some sense of control in a chaotic world. (I never did buy anything there, though; I won’t play their sick game.)

On this particular day, there wasn’t much to puzzle over on the receipt. “What small merchandise did you buy for 50 cents?” I asked.

Neal, totally nonchalant: “Just a knife”

“But we already have knives. Where is it?” I started looking around, less nonchalant.

“I put it by the dishwasher.”

I picked up the knife for examination. It looked average enough. Short. Black handle. Decently sharp for a thrift store find.

“We have knives just like this. We don’t need another knife.” I opened the knife drawer just to verify. One, two, three . . .  yep, at least three nearly identical knives.

Neal, bored with the knife interrogation conversation, had casually walked back to his bedroom and was checking email. I followed.

“Why did you buy that knife when we have others just like it?”

“I just thought we could use it,” he replied, eyes still fixed on his computer.

“Well, we don’t need it. You should return it.”

“Well, D. I. doesn’t do returns. “

“WHAT?! You’re going shopping and making impulse buys at a store that doesn’t even take returns?” I step closer just to make sure he can hear my disgust, since his back is still turned toward me.

He finally cranes his neck to look at me. “Seriously? It cost 50 cents. It’s not a big deal.”

“But 50 cents spent on something we don’t need is still a waste of 50 cents! If you spent 50 cents needlessly every time you went to the store that would add up . . . “

“To like 50 dollars a year! Gasp!”

“Do you know what 50 dollars per year FOR THE REST OF OUR MARRIAGE would add up to?”

“You seriously need to get a grip,” he concluded as he turns back to his computer.

After the incident, I knew I had to curb my obsessive financial tracking. It seemed the rest of our marriage might not be as long as I was planning if I kept asking him to account for every penny that left our account. Some men might find it emasculating; he just found it freaking annoying.

Initially the realization that I couldn’t track every cent was so depressing that I stopped monitoring our finances altogether for several months. (Crazy, I know!) It was strange that one of my favorite pastimes (financial monitoring! with spreadsheets!) had so quickly lost any pleasure for me. Neal, feeling for my frustration, even helpfully offered to take over the finances: “I’ll do it, as long as you’re okay with imperfection and losing track of a couple hundred dollars here and there.” (Um . . . thanks? as I dry-heave at the thought.) No, I had to find a middle ground. I had to accept that marriage means giving up obsessive control over many things, not the least of which is cheap knife purchases. Peace was once again restored to our home and financial planning.

Until the summer of “WE’RE BLEEDING MONEY,” of course . . .

February 24, 2014

January: Organize

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 1:45 am

Despite Neal’s continual claims that we need at least 2 or 3 more months devoted to organizing, I’m quite pleased with what I accomplished in January. Often after we put Addison to bed, I head right back to my bed. But for most of the month I resisted that urge and stayed up. Talk about the heart of a champion!

Over the course of the month, I organized:

  • the car — don’t worry, it’s filthy again already!
  • Cub Scout awards, plans, achievement charts — have I mentioned Neal and I are Cub Scout leaders in our new town? The organizing = the easy part.
  • the closet at my parents’ house — that we basically shoved a whole lotta stuff into as we were moving out.
  • 3 untouched boxes from our move — 3 probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but it yielded us at least 4 or 5 more square feet of usable space, so that was nice.

But by far my greatest accomplishment was a flash of inspiration I had to both Organize and close out my year of Thanks in a big way. I had just thousands of pictures scattered through various boxes and I thought, What if I go through each one and send prints or doubles to the friends and family in them? I sent off no less that 30 envelopes and small packages with copies of photos that were at least a decade or more old. I have 10 more still at home (some of these will need to wait for in-person visits because, dang, postage gets expensive!), along with loads of pictures I hope to scan, but it felt great to make so much progress. And while I didn’t write “Thank you” on each one, I hope that the message came through:

Thanks for being a part of my life. You still have a place in my heart.

Oh yeah, and thanks for overlooking those hideous bangs I used to have. That means a lot.

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit A

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit A

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit B (this pic may not represent an exclusively bangs issue)

Hideous Bangs: Exhibit B (though this pic may not represent an exclusively bangs issue)

February 10, 2014

It’s that time . . . HELP!

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 6:01 am

February. Time to Cook.

I still need to write about Stronger. And Thanks. And January’s Organize theme. But there’s no time now! It’s already the 9th! And I’ve got people coming for dinner on Saturday! And I’m starting a second job in less than 2 weeks! And . . . this is the real kicker . . . I’m beginning to tire of tacos, which I’ve been eating for about 85% of my meals since August. Never thought that day would come. *wipes away tears*

Based on Neal’s and my initial conversations, coming up with a mutually agreeable meal plan is going to be tough. He wants it to be cheap. I want it to be tasty and somewhat varying. I’ve made some compromises over the last few months — for example, replacing all ground beef I used to eat, which wasn’t much, with cheaper black beans — but if I have to continue to rotate through the same 4 cheap meals every week (3 of them containing black beans), I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose the will to live.

This is where you come in with your great ideas! What are your easiest go-to meals? If they have 5 ingredients or less, you’ll get a gold star. I’m especially interested in:

  • Freezer meals, especially ones that don’t require meat
  • Crockpot meals, especially ones that don’t require meat
  • Recipes with quinoa  or sticky rice (we bought both of these in bulk)
  • Recipes in a jar (that’s a thing, right? Something that could be mixed up ahead of time . . . )
  • Add-ins to add variety to salads

One thing: I’m not a big soup/stew fan. Neal bemoans this fact every. single. day. as if all our problems would be solved by me liking soup more. Alas, it has to be pretty spectacular soup (like Safeway’s Loaded Baked Potato) to interest me.

Help a sister out over here!

January 7, 2014

2013 Holiday Letter

Filed under: Family, Lindsay loves Neal, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:38 pm

I totally did it again, guys. I wrote and sent out something that could reasonably be termed a holiday letter. Boom! Three years in a row is a world record, right?


If 2012 was a calm(ish) year for us, 2013 was full of big changes. Chief among them was moving from bustling Orange County to a small town in the mountains north of Los Angeles. We live in the Los Padres National Forest near “the Grapevine” for those familiar with So Cal freeways and traffic reports. To say that this is a big change is probably an understatement: the population of our town is about 2,600 people, smaller than the number of fans Neal’s blog has acquired on Facebook over the last year. There’s no stoplights, though there is one very useful blinking red light. Bears, racoons, squirrels, and feral cats abound. For fun, there’s hiking. Or hiking. Or sledding when it snows. Neal has truly fallen in love — because this out of our front windows:

First snow

And despite Addison’s initial protests that she “just can’t handle it anymore because there are not so many people here,” she is beginning to love it as well.

As for me, I really love our little mountain cabin, but still need to work on getting out of the house. Between a very busy semester of teaching and taking on a new role as a supervisor over other online instructors — and the inevitable dip in my health after the demands of moving — I was pretty home-bound for the first few months in our new digs. But my goal for 2014 is to go on at least one hike! Or a walk to the post office. One of those.

Neal has made good use of the hiking trails as well as taking Addison to our nearby park and library nearly every day. When he’s not busy collecting firewood along the paths near our house, he became one of the Babble 100 — Best Bloggers of 2013. No big deal. I was pretty surprised at the award considering he’s had very little blogging time for the last half of the year, but clearly, he made what little time he did have count. Addison and I are very proud!

Addison’s even more proud of her daddy’s computer game skills. They’re fond of playing “the pirate game” together. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing exclamations like these while grading papers: “Let’s steal some trade goods! We need to go to Tortuga! We got some plunder! Why we hit a sandbar?!” Despite the piracy, she has become an increasingly loving and affectionate almost-four-year-old. She’s taken to giving us spontaneous hugs while saying, “I love you, mommy. I love you, daddy. . . . But we will not always be together because we will die.” Clearly, death continues to be a favorite topic of conversation, rivaled only by her growing love of sparkles and princesses and accessorizing. Heaven help us.

We hope 2014 is good to you and yours!

warm yer bum

The fruits of their wood-collecting efforts

Sometimes this place isn't quite stimulating enough for her...

Sometimes this place isn’t quite stimulating enough for her…

And sometimes it's freaking awesome!

And sometimes it’s freaking awesome!

And my favorite Neal comic of the year — I can’t wait till she’s actually a teenager and we can compare her anguish then and now:

The breaking heart

January 6, 2014

This is not a beach.

I wrote this in October or November of 2012. I held off posting it, thinking I would refine it some more. But more than a year later, that’s clearly not happening. What a trip to revisit that very memorable afternoon with my (mouthy) two-and-a-half-year-old — I hope you enjoy it too!

“Sorry, I don’t see a ocean.”

“Yeah, I turned down the wrong street,” I explained. “Let’s try this way.”

“Nope. Sorry. I don’t see a ocean. Where’s our aventure?”

I had promised Addison an adventure to see the ocean and so far, every street was a dead end. I’m not sure why she kept apologizing; I was the one who dashed out of the house without directions, thinking that a quick glance at the map would get us there, because how hard could it be to find the beach from an unfamiliar part of L.A. You just go as far to the left as possible, right?

“I don’t see a ocean. But I DO have a plan to get us to da ocean. Let me write sumfing, with a pen. Give me dat pen.”

As entertaining as it might have been to see this “plan” to get us to the ocean, I know better than to pass a pen to the two-year-old in the back seat. Instead I kept meandering our way through construction zones in Playa Vista, as Addison barked out directions from behind: “Careful, mom! ‘Top, ‘top. Sumfing in the road. This road bumpy . . . bump, bump, bump.” I’m pretty sure I managed to hit every torn-up road within a 5-mile radius, and Addison let me know about it. Along the way, we passed a small playground and I debated whether I could make the tiny park seem sooo fun that she would forget all about our promised beach adventure. But who am I kidding?

Finally making my way out of a literal maze of closed roads, I saw a green sign: Marina del Rey. There’s water there! I remember having lunch there once! Knowing this was not exactly the ocean experience she had in mind, I set to work making it seem like exactly the adventure I’d been planning all along.

“Look, there’s boats! So many boats! You know what a lot of boats mean?”

“This is not a beach,” she said matter-of-factly, after a dismissive glance at the boats.

“A lot of boats means there’s water nearby! So exciting! We’re almost there . . . “

“This is not a beach.”

As we drove down the street, Addison was on the lookout for a beach while I was willing to settle for a free parking space. (Why is there no free parking in the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area?) Reaching yet another dead-end, an apartment building on one side and the U.S. Coast Guard station on the other, I had to act quickly to salvage this “aventure.” Enthusiasm is the key with toddlers, right?

“Oooh, look at these fancy apartments! Aren’t they so pretty? Very contemporary.” (Very contemporary? Seriously?)

“This not a beach,” she repeated, her intensity slowly rising.

“Let’s hurry and get out! We can watch the Coast Guard boat take off! Hurry! We don’t want to miss the boat launch!!”

I tried to hurry her across the small parking lot–all the while pretending that I was in no way illegally parked and had a legitimate interest in million-dollar condos–and over to the rocky bank overlooking the inlet (which, in case you were wondering, is not a beach) as if the Coast Guard boat pushing out to sea was the most interesting thing she would ever see.

“Wow, look at the boat! They’re honking the horn! Honk-honk!”

“This NOT a beach.”

Apparently, Coast Guard boats, even honking ones, do not defuse the righteous indignation of a toddler, who, promised a beach and an expansive ocean view, is instead led to a 10-foot wide strip of gravel in a parking lot. Duly noted.

“Oh, look, there’s rocks! There’s tons of rocks,” I said, on to the next idea. “There’s rocks EVERYWHERE. Should we throw some rocks into the water?”

If I had thought this through ahead of time, I would have realized what a ridiculous idea that was. She’s two and a half years old. Her arm is about 18 inches long. And the water was at least 30 feet away, down a sloping embankment. You do the math.

But then the strangest thing happened. This three-foot-tall bundle of ferocious energy, who feels free to hiss, growl, slap, kick, and flail at the slightest provocation, like a sock getting twisted or someone sitting too close to her, turned to me and cheerfully said, “Okay!” She bent down, her saggy diaper thrust into the air, and picked up a small rock. She heaved it as far as she could, a slight grunt underscoring the effort.

“That didn’t work,” she said calmly, noticing that the rock landed just inches away from her foot.

So she picked up another rock, and threw.

“That didn’t work.”

And then another.

“That didn’t really work.” Addison crouched down this time, looking for just the right rock. She hefted one, holding it a moment. She dropped it. And picked up a larger rock. “Maybe I need a BIG rock.”

She threw the big rock, maybe three feet in front of her.

“That didn’t really work.”

I suggested maybe she needed to move closer, as if 10 steps would make a difference. She moved closer, and threw.

“That didn’t work.”

This continued for at least four minutes. She tried small, medium, and large rocks. She tried going slightly up the embankment and slightly down the embankment. She tried different arm positions, underhand, overhand. What she did not do was huff or puff, whine or cry. Her usual intensity and tenacity that hover right on the edge of frustration and meltdown were, for FOUR WHOLE minutes, replaced by a calm and methodical persistence. Finally, she turned to me.

“You try, mama.”

Thank the good Lord that my feeble arm could still manage to get a rock 30 feet down into the water. For several more minutes, Addison brought me rocks of various shapes and sizes, and we watched to see which produced the biggest splashes. About two awkward throws after I thought I might have irreparably injured my neck, I finally convinced her that it was time to go.

I wish I could explain exactly why two weeks later I am still thinking of this “adventure.” There was something so ridiculous and profound about it, simultaneously mundane and exciting. I mean, for starters, my baby girl, the one who runs in for a hug only to change directions 1.5 seconds in, the one who veers off course 90% of the time so that much-anticipated expressions of affection come out something like “I love . . . What’s dat? It’s shiny. I want dat! I LOVE it! Gimme it!”, the one who has the teeny-tiniest attention span for anything that isn’t strictly forbidden, focused on something productive for FOUR minutes. And that something was, let’s be honest, kinda boring and lame. There was no possible way she was getting a rock into that water; she was lucky to get a rock one-tenth of the way. But all her “That didn’t really work”s were so calm and focused. There was no whiny (lazy?) self-doubt like when she so often comes to us and says, “I CAN’T do it,” mostly because she is unwilling to sit down for three seconds together and try.

This is perhaps reading too much into the situation (and probably also vain), but for the first time I thought that maybe, just maybe I could see a little of my calm persistence in her. The ability to be patient and persistent, to recognize my limitations but still keep gently pushing back, has been everything to me. Trying to finish my Master’s thesis felt a little like having an 18-inch arm, while faced with a 30-foot distance. There had been neck surgeries and emergency surgery and bedrest and itching and sleepless nights and postpartum depression, and my thesis seemed a million miles away, completely out of reach. But I would not give up. I tried working in one-hour chunks, while Neal took Addison for walks. I tried working in three-hour chunks, while Neal took Addison to a babysitter. I tried working in bed on my trusty, sideways laptop. I rented a desktop and worked sitting up, with frequent breaks for amateur neck massages. All the time, I seemed no closer to finishing. There was a lot of “That didn’t work.”

I cleared out full days to devote to writing, and sat on the couch for ten hours at a time, barely attending to any bodily needs. I started working evenings at the lab when only a couple of hard-cores would be there. I started working all day Saturdays at the lab; if my car was not the last one in the parking structure, I vowed to stay later the next week. I brought snacks, meals, and pillows. I would work an hour and lay down to ease the tension in my neck and back. Another hour, and then walk a lap (okay, half a lap) around the empty second floor of the JFSB. When I needed a boost, I would persuade Neal to bring me dinner and a two-foot-tall visitor, who would do her darndest to wreak havoc on every keyboard in the room before her ten minutes expired. But no matter how many times my advisor hinted that I needed to be done, or my Grandma asked anxiously for a status report, or the university sent me certified letters warning that all my hard work expired in months, I was unruffled. I just kept plugging away. Moving up and down the bank. Trying different size rocks, different arm positions, different approaches. Vain or not, I want her to learn that from me.

There’s something I want to learn from her too. I want to learn that moment where you turn back. Back to someone bigger, taller, stronger. Someone who has been standing behind you all the time, even though you didn’t know it or believe it or want to believe it. Someone who has been observing; appreciating each of your focused, little efforts. Someone who knows the best place for that rock to land and how to get it there. Someone who is waiting, always waiting, to show you. Someone who will wait forever. I want to learn how to hand over that rock. To stop gripping it so tightly, as if everything depends on my hand, my arm, my strength. I want to learn those words, “You try.”

December 31, 2013

Prayers answered, with precision

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:28 am

Several months ago my laptop started to give me the blue screen of death.

It told me it needed to check the disks “for consistency,” first every once in a while; then every single day. All this was after the mouse had died completely; the interface between the battery and computer had become temperamental, sometimes telling me it had 6 hours left and 2 minutes later, dying completely; and the power cord had apparently shorted out in such a way that I had to perform nightly rituals to get it charging (squeeze as hard as possible, lift above my head, drop it to the ground, flick top; repeat).

Neal was excited that I needed a new laptop; he loves any excuse to scour Slickdeals. But I was insistent that it wasn’t time yet. It wasn’t in our budget for 2013 and I’d been feeling major financial stress with our move, so I refused to even consider it. Having no real tech knowledge, I wasn’t sure how to make this laptop last, so I did the only (free) thing I could think of. I prayed: please help this laptop get me through this semester of teaching. Just this semester. Please. PLEASE. It’s so ridiculous that some of my most fervent prayers in life have been over this laptop, but so it is.

slow internet

Neal thinks I’m incredibly impatient with technology — if he had had this little piece of Whitney Cummings (whoever she is) advice earlier, our marriage and Addison might not exist. But I think even he will have to admit that it takes real patience to work with the mouse/battery/power cord/blue screen of death situation I’ve been dealing with for three whole months, especially when I spend a good 16 hours a day on the computer.

On Thursday evening I submitted my final semester grades. On Friday morning I sent my final email to the other online instructors I’ve supervised this semester. On Friday afternoon the power cord was blinking even more unnaturally than usual, the battery indicator light was shining red (red = bad), and the laptop began beeping ceaselessly. And then it was dead. It’s Monday now and none of my ritualistic endeavors to revive it have been successful.

Of course, I was put out at first. I may have done some moans and sighs (possibly my famous karate chop hands in combination). It would have been nice to finish the article that’s due this Thursday on my regular laptop with access to all my files! If only it just could have worked until we got home from our Christmas visits! (If only it could have lasted FOREVER so I would never have to spend money on another laptop again!)

But really, it was important to notice that it lasted just until I finished my semester. And absolutely no longer. Which is exactly what I asked God to do for me. I’ve never been very comfortable with praying, so it’s awfully smart/sneaky of Him to send me this very direct message. Well played.

The new laptop is in hand now, thanks to a super $200 Best Buy deal. And it has Windows 8 and a touchscreen and a home screen to mimic a tablet — new-fangled technology, ugh! I’ll probably need to say some more prayers to get through this new trial . . .

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