Don’t call us, we’ll call you

October 28, 2016

This is helplessness.

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 7:58 pm

I’ve started writing about this roller-coaster that is foster parenting several times, but nothing fully formed or realized. Having to speak in church last Sunday forced me to make the time to finish something. Here it is. 

When Tammy asked me to speak in the Primary program several months ago, I had no idea that I would be in the midst of one of the most profound emotional roller-coasters of my life. But in a way having this traumatized, needy foster baby dropped in our laps 6 weeks ago was amazing preparation for this subject. My topic is Jesus Christ as our Savior and it’s a very challenging one for me.

See, I’m kind of a can-do person. If there’s a way to accomplish what I want to do, I will find it. I’m a professor and manager by trade so if a question comes up that I can’t answer, I’ll research it until I can. If an instructor has a problem, I’ll figure out how to address it.

You notice all those “I”s? I can do this; I do that. There’s something almost antithetical about my strong feelings of self-efficacy and capability versus an ability and willingness to accept and rely on a Savior. I just like to do things myself if I can – and I almost always feel like I can. Somehow, I’ll make it all work if I just make a couple more spreadsheets.

It’s not that I’ve never had times in my life where I cried out for divine help. I’ve shared from this pulpit before about my years-long battle with depression and how the teachings from my childhood and youth about loving Heavenly Parents and a Savior Jesus Christ came back to me at key times to quite literally save my life. It’s just that it’s extremely difficult to keep that feeling in my mind and heart when my innate personality often runs counter to it, and instead toward a belief that I can do it myself.

But enter this 10-month-old baby B, who joined us on Labor Day (very fitting for what was in store). He’s been through a lot in his short life and it’s led to a few things that certainly caught us off guard. For example, an intense traumatic reaction to diaper changes. I don’t mean that he just doesn’t like them or cries or tries to squirm away; I mean that he quite literally would hold his breath until he turned blue and went limp. The first time I watched him do that was about the most nerve-wracking moment of my life because I literally thought he was dying right in front of me.

He also has a hypervigilance unusual for a baby his age. He can be fast asleep and motionless one moment, but if you so much as move your foot to leave the room, he is looking at you wide-eyed and screaming. You’re suddenly a traitor in his eyes because you planned to leave him long enough to take a quick shower.

And then there’s just the inconsolable crying. Whatever pain he’s experienced sometimes just has to come out in hours of pitiful screaming and “extreme breath holding” — the pediatricians term for it — that won’t be soothed no matter how much rocking, shushing, or swaying you do. In those times, he seems every bit as scared and disturbed as we are, trying to help him breathe but unable to make much of a difference.

Now this is helplessness. Perhaps the most extreme feeling of helplessness I’ve ever experienced because while I’ve experienced helplessness before with clients I was trying to assist, even toward my own physical and mental health issues, there was always a level of understanding. What the challenges were, why they would be difficult to solve. But this little guy: he doesn’t know why his life was turned upside down, why he’s changed hands so many times, why he gets so upset that he literally can’t breathe. There is no can-do attitude here; there is nothing I can do to take away the challenges that he has faced and will continue to face over the next months no matter how much research I do, or how hard I work. He and we are at the mercy of forces completely outside of our control.

But aren’t we all? Constantly? Even if we feel like we can make it all work with a little more effort or a carefully planned spreadsheet or just powering through. During those hard days and night with B, I often sing to him more for me than for him:

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.

On one particularly harrowing night, I prayed so fervently, very uncharacteristically, “Please send angels to be with this little guy. He needs angels to comfort him right now. There’s nothing I can do.” None of my child development knowledge or sincere desire to soothe him were making a dent in his terror and anguish. He needed a Savior and I did too.

If I had more time, I would tell you about the angel that He sent, in the form of one of my students and a game-changing phone call with her. Even my skeptical Neal had to acknowledge how almost miraculous it all felt. So even for all my doubting and focus on all that I can do, I am grateful to know that there is divine help available to us. That we do have someone waiting to save us from all our entirely helpless situations. And I’m grateful that I get to teach that to these beautiful children so that when they find themselves in the dark times of their lives that these teachings from their childhood may come back to them and they will know who to turn to.

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