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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May 26, 2010

Happiness Project Wednesday: One-sentence journal

Every Wednesday I’m recording how The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has influenced my daily life.  To read my introductory post, click here.

Family history is a big part of the LDS faith; it serves both practical purposes and grand theological ends.  Consequently, there is a great deal of emphasis on keeping our own records, writing a journal, etc.  Unfortunately, I have always been bad at this in its more traditional form.  Even with this blog, there have been times of feast and times of famine.

So when I read about Gretchen’s experiment with keeping a one-sentence journal, it seemed like the perfect idea.  If I tell myself I only have to write one sentence a day, it doesn’t feel so daunting.  And it will still be creating a record of the early days of my daughter’s life, which, if she’s anything like her mother, she will one day just eat up.

Some days I have only managed a sentence like this one from April 28, written after a two-week lull:

I thought I would rock at a one-sentence journal, but apparently, I also suck at this type of journaling.

But other days I have written 4 or 5 run-on sentences.  Well done, me.

May 24, 2010

Baby blessing, 3 April 2010

Filed under: Family, Personal — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 6:00 pm

In the LDS Church, a new baby is given a name and a blessing through the power of the priesthood, usually at 2 or 3 months old.  It was no small feat to get most of our families together for Addison’s blessing, considering Neal’s parents were coming from Alabama and Baby Evie was set to arrive in April.  But the stars aligned for a wonderful evening!

Probably the most memorable part for us was some alone time that Neal and I took to pray and ponder together beforehand.  Thanks to Neal’s Aunt Karen for keeping Addison calm and comfortable so we could have those special moments!

Neal gave Addison a beautiful blessing, particularly referencing the meaning of her name (which I plan to write more about next week).  He looked quite dapper doing it, no?

Joining him in the circle was his brother Skylar, dad Kevin, our bishopric member and cousin Andrew, my dad Steve, and my brother Chris:

We had representatives from all four of Addison’s family branches to welcome her.

The Calls:

The Skidmores (Neal’s mom):

The Larsons:

The Hortons (my mom):

We were grateful that we could get most of Neal’s immediate family and all of mine together for the event.

Although it is customary for the little one to be dressed in white, we decided to go with this adorable brown-and-pink ensemble Rachel gave her, partly because we didn’t have a white dress and partly because I’m obsessed with the little matching shoes.  [I realize now that these pictures don’t do the outfit justice; I will have to remedy that soon with a photo shoot!]

We’re grateful for everyone that made the trek out here for the blessing, and for those who were there in spirit.

November 11, 2008

Neal’s significantly significant experience, Part I

Filed under: Incarceration research, Neal's writing — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 3:22 am

Alright, enough of celebrating me…

One of my avid readers (one of the very few that will brave blogs without many pictures 🙂 ) chastened me for not posting enough.  I blog non-stop in my head, but don’t always find the time to put it in writing.  But tonight and for the next couple days (in installments), I’ll be featuring something Neal wrote about his experience this summer. It is really interesting for me to see him writing about his experience–seeing how he views my work and what left an impression on him.

My wife has just started her second year in her Master’s program for MFHD. Though she did her undergrad work in history, she developed a connection with vulnerable populations after doing Americorps work in Washington, D.C. (where we met). She wants to help people in transition learn to manage their finances better. She hopes to create programs that would benefit men and women as they leave jail or prison, battered women as they learn to support themselves, and others who are in a position both logistically and emotionally to better their lives through sincere, concerted efforts at change. She paired her financial literacy work with a University of Illinois researcher’s work in fatherhood among incarcerated males, and we spent the summer going between the Champaign county downtown jail and satellite Jail.

As part of the IRB protocols for working with an incarcerated population, we had to protect the well-being of the “jailed individuals” (the preferred term over “convicts” or “inmates”). There are a series of requirements that must be met for work with vulnerable populations, which amount to safeguards against the sorts of non-voluntary experiments that were often tested on incarcerated or minority populations in the middle part of the 20th century. One of the things we had to verbalize to the guys coming in for interviews was the possibility of benefit weighed against any risks involved. We stated that talking about financial matters can be a “very emotional topic,” but that any topics our questions brought up were not anticipated to be more difficult than what they would normally experience during their stay in jail.

Before anyone went in to do any interviews, a friend of the Illinois researcher spoke with all of the Jail Study workers about what it was like to be in jail. He was an LDS convert (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who a few years earlier had a warrant out for his arrest on drug violations. Rather than go to jail, he left the state, eventually marrying a woman from New Mexico and having several children. When they both decided to join the church, the man voluntarily returned to Illinois, walked into the jail, and asked to be booked so he could serve his sentence. He served six months in the Satellite Jail, which he called “the cushy jail.” Before completing his presentation, he showed us the scars of stab wounds from pens and pencils in his arms, hip and side. He talked of guards that allowed him and several other men to congregate in the LDS guy’s bedroom for what he assumed were KKK meetings. They were, in fact, scripture study sessions.

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