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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.)

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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:

Hunger

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

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),

Mama

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).

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