Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hope


A joyful, confident expectation of good.*  

That’s what I told her hope is, while she chewed her fingernails and waited for the phone to ring. It’s what God means when He tells us to hope.
“I jumped for joy when I read that!” she said.
Then yesterday – devastation.
“What happened,”  I begged God, my pen accusing Him in bruising speed across the journal page before me. 
“I’m so confused. I think I made things worse. Now here I sit, wishing I’d never learned to type. If faith is leaning on Jesus in absolute confidence in His power, wisdom and goodness, how come I’m always falling down?” **
I bet it’s my anemic faith.
“You are good. You keep telling me in my crises to expect You. But what about in the crises of others? Can’t I expect You there, too? Now I don’t know anything, except she got bad news yesterday—how is that good?”
Where are You, God?
“I’m in the dark again,  questioning Your . . . what exactly am I questioning? Your goodness, Your power? No. Your desire to step up and heal? Maybe. Your willingness to rescue?”
Yeah. That’s the one.
“It always comes back to that for me, doesn’t it? And then it becomes personal again. Are You our Champion? Do we matter to You in our exhausting daily wars? Is it wrong to enjoy this life and ask for a longer visa?
“I know ‘heaven is for real’ and people want to stay there when they get a glimpse of it. But for many of us, it’s the blurry stuff of gospel songs and sweet by & by’s—even fear. The enemy aims at our bodies, but it’s our hearts he’s after. He steals our peace and confidence in You.
“And how about this easy explanation some people give: “God heals perfectly when He takes people home.” You know that’s not what we prayed for. You knew what we meant—You’re not a greasy lawyer with slick answers. And You’ve given us authority to ask for things that will be granted to us.”
What am I missing? Does prayer even work?
“I’m losing ground in the tug of war where I was taught never to believe out loud that You heal the sick and do good. Not today. Not in middle America.
“Please heal him, Lord. Please talk to me. If this is the battle I think it is, if Your women are a great army, then this is just a skirmish and it’s not over yet. Because we’re praying.” ***
My troubled eyes fell to the Bible open next to me.
Be glad. Be in high spirits. Jubilantly rejoice. Sing praises to His name. Cast up a highway for Him Who rides through the deserts. A protector is God. You did restore and confirm Your heritage (us) when it languished and was weary. You, God, in Your goodness, did provide for the poor and needy. (Psalm 68)
Well, it wasn’t an explanation, but it was an answer. Spent, I closed my journal and got dressed for church.
Two hours after my debate with God, eighteen hundred miles away from my friend’s pain, an Anglican priest—his sermon finalized that morning—began to preach. I sat up straight in the pew as he began reading from the same chapter where I’d debated God that very morning—Psalm 68.
“God is [already] beginning to arise, and His enemies to scatter; let them also who hate Him flee before Him!” he read from verse 1.

“For nine days, the Bible says, the disciples and the women believers waited in the upper room, devoting themselves constantly to prayer. It was the in-between time,” he said, “the time between the promise and the reality, the realization.
“Prayer is central to our lives, to who we are as believers. Prayer shapes belief—what we believe about God. And when we pray, we reveal the things we believe.
“We imagine we are somehow responsible for our state in life because of our choices, good or bad.  Therefore, we think we don’t deserve God’s goodness. But in John 17:1-11, Jesus is bold when He prays. He looks to heaven and invites His Father to be faithful to His promises. He puts His Father’s honor on the line.”
I fell in love with Jesus again. He couldn’t have spoken more clearly to me if He’d hit me with a fig tree.
“Look at the story of Lazarus,” the pastor continued. “Look how He prayed at the grave of a man who’d been dead for three days.”   
“ ‘You always hear Me and always answer Me when I call You,’ Jesus told His Father. It was an invitation: Do on earth the things you do in heaven. God alone is in control. Jesus challenges God to be faithful because God is faithful. He’s saying, ‘Lord, prove to your people that You are faithful. We glorify you. Provide for Your people.’”          
My son, the Anglican priest, had no idea of the battle which took place in my soul that morning. He did not hear the way I questioned my Father’s heart before I came to worship Him. It wouldn’t have mattered if he knew. It’s not my faith that’s on the line—it’s God’s. And He has enough for the both of us.****

“Expect the Holy Spirit to show up,” the young priest concluded.
That’s just what hope does. 

 

 

*(2 Corinthians 1:7, Amplified Bible)
**(2 Timothy 3:15, Amplified Bible)
***(Ps. 68:11, Amplified Bible)
****(Galations 2:20)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Betrayal On Nottaway Hill

When he was three, he wore a batman cape and a pointy-eared hat I bought during the After Halloween Clearance Sale at a fabric store. When he was five, we painted his name in bold block letters on the back of a red vinyl coat I found at Goodwill, added some black galoshes from their shoe shelf, put a plastic junior firefighter helmet on his head and wished him a happy birthday. We were pretty broke that year.
 
My son always loved role playing games.

But roles have reversed and the games have gone weird. I just don’t get them. There’s no dress up box. No cowboys. No Indians.

Now when he plays a role, there isn’t a pseudo superhero in sight.

There’s just a box in the middle of the dining room table, stacks of character cards, thousands of cardboard confetti pieces, and a ten chapter instruction manual with a table of contents devoid of  a very important warning: 
“This Game Cannot Possibly Be Completed In Under Four Hours.
Blow yourself up with zombie dynamite in the first roll of the dice. . .
if you know what’s good for you.”
I never got the dynamite card.
Two years ago I played Arkham Horror with my son and at the end of the night I wanted to throw myself under the wheels of an oncoming ghost train. He said it was an easy game to play. He lied. I spent four hours running from zombies. I don’t even believe in zombies.
And . . . history repeated itself.
“Hey, Mom,” he began a couple of weeks ago, “I have some new games I know you’ll love. They’re easy!”
I should have faked a stroke.
“You have your choice,” he was saying. “Eldritch Horror or Betrayal At House On The Hill?”
Those were choices? Whatever happened to Monopoly or Candy Land?
We role played two days in a row and I’m here to tell you I was betrayed twice in his house on the hill. More on that in another blog. For now, I was given the role of a nine-year-old girl with the eyes of Satan.
“She’s better than the creepy séance woman on the other side of the card,” my daughter-in-law told me as I stared in Arkham Horror at my character’s picture. “She only has three points of sanity but five points of speed.”  So? Most nine-year-olds have five points of speed. Toddlers probably have fifty but there weren’t any toddlers in this edition.
Here’s the catch: they always tell you this is a team game. That’s how they suck you in. It makes it sound like a charity event. No competition. No losers. Just win-win.
What a lie-lie.
The goal was to build a house where we could all live like the Waltons—or maybe the Munsters—and search for a treasure. Right up to the point where one of you turns out to be a traitor. And there’s a haunt who shows up somewhere. Then all bets are off, and it’s every character for himself as you try to escape an imploding house in your Nightmare At House On The Hill.
My son explained the rules to us. I took eleven pages of notes—typewritten—while Lee kept asking me, “Is that clear?” Yes, I don’t understand, I nodded.
In the first round my husband, Rob got stuck in the basement where he attended his own funeral and then escaped from his coffin. I have no explanation. But it does seem like the afterlife might be located in the basement. I had the mystic elevator all to myself and didn’t know how to make it go down to his level from where I was stuck on the third floor.
“If I get out of this alive,” I thought to myself, “I’m naming my next dog Claustrophobia.”
It was all downhill from there.
On the verge of cracking up, our team spirit gave up the ghost three hours into the mini drama. My daughter-in-law observed, “Lee, I feel like you don’t remember how this game works.”
I never knew how the game worked.
“That’s fine,” he retorted, “I’m not responsible for your feelings.”  Jessica rolled her eyes and the dice while muttering something under her breath aimed in his direction.
“What was that, Captain Losington?” he challenged.
Nobody told me Captain Losington was a player. If they had, I would have chosen him instead of a demonic nine-year-old with only three sanity points.
Captain Losington rolled some dice and announced that she had decided to collapse the house. Her nemesis husband looked strangely pleased and, suddenly, I realized the two of them had it in for us from the very beginning. It was all starting to make sense. There was no treasure. No team effort. No sense to this game. This was payback for that batman costume. Mr. and Mrs. Losington were out to get us.
I made a frantic effort to steer my mystic elevator to the basement where Rob had been trapped with his own casket for seventeen turns. And by frantic effort I mean I rolled some dice and asked my turncoat kids what three blanks and a two meant.
“It means I’ve locked you in the attic for all eternity,” Jessica said with an evil laugh. That’s how they always treat the mother-in-law—throw her in the attic with some moldy bread and turn up the TV so you never hear her voice again. I broke out in a cold sweat.
Outside a real live storm was building momentum and heading our way. “That purple pin is us,” Rob said as he showed me the radar on his phone.  Perfect. With any luck, I thought, I can experience the collapse of two houses tonight.
Punctuated by a clap of thunder, Captain Losington rolled a sixteen with a pair of dice that only have one and two and blanks on their sides, took her character to Bahamas, and the rest of us put our character cards back in the box, flat like the house that had crushed us. The game was over.
Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.
It was eleven o’clock, I’d lost another four hours of my life to role playing, and faced a walk outside in the pounding rain without my umbrella where I’d surely be struck by lightning and do the impossible feat of being killed twice in the same evening. And my hairdo wouldn’t survive very well either.
“We could put a plastic bag over your head,” Jessica said with a sardonic smile, and my son laughed his evil laugh, revealing that he had struck a deal with his wife while I was sleeping through the game’s instructions, and would soon be joining her in the Bahamas.
I knew it. They’re all traitors, if you ask me. See if I make him any more fireman suits.
 
 
 
** * Photos of your adult children in costumes are the best revenge.  ;)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Well, Shut My Mouth

This is going to be hard to admit.

I’m not doing it.
Yes, I am. Confession is good for . . . somebody’s soul. Maybe not mine, but if it makes you feel better about you, then it’s worth it.
I think.
Well, anyway. Last month I did the thing I said I would never do.
I was mortified a couple of years ago when somebody chewed me out for arriving late to a group study. It wasn’t the first time I’d shown up late for this meeting—it was just the first time I had a good reason. But the leader didn’t ask for an explanation. Instead, in front of twenty other women, she jumped right into lecture mode, bordering on downright fury. Showing up fifteen minutes late, it turns out, was inexcusable, even if your stupid dog chewed up your favorite gardenia bush that morning. So I left. And never went back.
So far, so good, right? You’d have done the same thing, wouldn’t you?  And when the leader called later to apologize and rationalize her behavior, you’d have told her what I did:
“I would never speak to anyone the way you spoke to me today.”
Right.
That’s like telling your husband you’d never hide a charge from him, so why didn’t he mention the new golf club in the garage?
Or maybe that’s just me. Great. I’ve already said too much. I knew this was a bad idea.
So . . . time passed and I kept my word. I did not speak to anyone the way she spoke to me that day. Not immediately.
Okay, now I’ve got your attention. See how you are.
I kept my resolution until last month. Then suddenly, for no forgivable reason, while learning “how to listen” with a completely different group of women, I spoke rudely to a lady sitting next to me.
You’ve lost all respect for me now, haven’t you? No? You saw this coming? I really wish you’d warned me.
I could make excuses for my bad behavior, but I know you’re too smart for that. The bottom line is this: I alone am in charge of what comes out of my mouth.
I don’t know where I heard that. I guess I could have read it in the Bible. Or a fortune cookie.
Anyway, after failing our class in Compassionate Listening 101, I earnestly apologized several times, was graciously forgiven—and promptly forgotten. The lady I offended never returned to our group.
So that night I went to bed, spilled my guilty guts to my husband the golfer, reached for the magical sleeping mask those CPAP guys gave me last year, and was instantly transformed. With my disguise in place and a piece of tape across my mouth (to compensate for floppy jaws which wake me up), I quickly fell asleep.
It was a magical moment, unparalleled in the annals of human history, unequaled since the Man of Steel first changed clothes in a phone booth. I think that’s illegal now in most states.
Here in Arizona, though, for eight solid hours on that night, the world was safe from my both my unhinged jaw and tongue.
You are in the presence of a SuperHero.
I am . . . Paper Tape Woman! Through the dark of night til dawn’s faint light, tardy friends and rookie listeners are safe and secure while I slumber in silence. Just as long . . . as my mouth is taped shut.
In some circles I am also known as Famous Last Words Woman. But I’m resigning from that gig. I can only handle one superhero identity at a time. And I didn’t really enjoy posing here as True Confessions Woman, no matter how good it was for your soul.
You’re underwhelmed by my limited powers, aren’t you? I wish I could promise you twenty-four hours of uninterrupted security, but a girl’s gotta eat, you know.  Eight hours of respite from my tongue—the unruly muscle St. James dubbed “a restless evil, full of deadly poison”—is all I can promise you. If I take a melatonin and nobody sets the alarm, then maybe I’ll sleep til nine.
It’s not a lot, but it’s a better promise than anybody on Capitol Hill can offer. In fact, I confided in a close friend the other night about my secret identity and the faux pas that forced me into silent seclusion and SuperHero-dom. Her response would have knocked Clark Kent’s glasses off.
“Oh, my God,” she said in mock surprise as she listened to my contrite confession, “you’re . . .  human!
No, I am Paper Tape Woman. Sheesh. SuperHeros don’t get no respect.
And I still haven’t learned to keep my big mouth shut.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Greener Pastures


I might have had a little meltdown last night . All because of the “A” word. And the “D” word. Adventurous Dog. My stupid dog likes adventures. She doesn’t like secure backyards—a closed gate is an invitation to dig her own tunnel. She doesn’t care if she’s locked in a crate—she just channels Houdini. And running through a back pasture doesn’t make her feel contented—it makes her think she’s Superdog and can jump high fences in a single bound.
She can. Yesterday she went AWOL while we were on vacation. Instead of terrorizing our daughter’s goats and showing the roosters who’s boss, she went over the wall when no one was looking.
This is starting to become a habit. And it’s really cramping our style.
She hates the car, so we can’t take her on trips with us. We’re wearing out dog sitters. And neighbors. And welcomes. Even the microchip company wants their chip back.
I’m at a loss.
We’ve owned this crazy, friendly, loving animal for ten years, ever since we rescued her from the pound—and certain annihilation, I might add. Don’t you think she should feel grateful and kiss our feet every day?  Okay, well, she does kiss our feet every day. And lick our faces and our jeans and our furniture and the sliding glass door . . .
She weighed thirty pounds soaking wet back then and when she lay on the floor she looked like a bath towel with ribs. You should see her now! We fattened her up a whole eight pounds. We gave her a place to sleep, her very own personal name, and we pamper her with five dollar squeaky toys that she punctures and disembowels in five minutes flat. I even call her into the kitchen every time I spill food on the floor just so she can feel important. And she has her own Christmas stocking.
I ask you, what more could a dog want???
Maybe she’s having an identity crisis. I think she’s part ferret. She weighs 38 pounds soaking wet, but it’s spread out stem-to-stern a good three feet long. The dog’s a freaking noodle. She’s squeezed through places not even a cockroach can master.
At least there are compassionate, honest people in the world who take in runaways like her. Neighbors captured her and kept her from becoming coyote chow. But she’s too self absorbed to be grateful. My daughter retrieved her this morning and sent me a picture of our dog staring somberly out the back door, looking like Dorothy without her red shoes.
Well, she brought it all on herself.
She did the crime and now she’s doing the time. She’s in the slammer. The lockup.  The Big House. Until we pick her up and take her home, Katy said she’s on house arrest and will only be allowed supervised yard visits. No more herding the goats without a license. No more barking at the horses. Even the exhausted mousers are grinning like Cheshire Cats. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think they all put her up to it . . .
Come to think of it, I bet they saw her coming a mile away. That’s plenty of time to plan a scam. A little high five between the goats, a fist bump among the chickens, and Sydney’s goose was cooked. Yeah, yeah, it all becomes painfully clear!
There's no place like home, city dog—you weren’t made for Adventure. It's time to face the truth.
You’re just no match for livestock.



Photo courtesy of Katy Brady.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tea For Two


“Can we have a tea party, YaYa?” she asked, her five-year-old eyes wide with anticipation.
I hardly ever say no.  The old china cabinet—really just a bookcase in disguise—has shelves full of double stacked floral patterned teacups. And everybody knows real teacups are a lot more fun to use at a tea party than tiny little plastic ones.
She knew I’d say yes. Immediately she began pulling on the cabinet’s doorknob, but that’s where I had to intervene.
“Let me open the door, Allie,” I said, as I crossed the room.
It’s a temperamental cabinet with precarious shelves and an uncooperative knob that doesn’t even oblige me very often, though it’s known me for twenty-five years. You’d think it’d give me a break. Actually, that’s what I was afraid of. I didn’t want the door to come flying open and baptize my grandbaby in broken porcelain.
But how do you explain that to a five-year-old with an “I can do it!” look in her eyes?
This morning, lost in thought, I found myself staring at that stubborn old cabinet for no apparent reason. I like the unique beauty of its every single cup. I even like the weathered wood of the doors, which sort of keep my little treasures safe behind glass.
But I wasn’t thinking about tea parties or broken teacups today. I was thinking about broken hearts. Broken relationships. Broken dreams.
And forgiveness.
Right now, listening to easy jazz in my favorite coffee shop, I don’t want to go back to my dark thoughts of this morning. It’s painful, and kind of embarrassing, to cry in the middle of Starbucks. You’ll never know the end of the story unless I do, though. Thank goodness the napkins are plentiful and free here.
I have some broken relationships that I would really like to mend. And, as a “good Christian” and decent human being with failures of my own, that seems like the right and proper thing to do. Advice is plentiful from the well meaning. “Forgiveness is for you,” they say, misunderstanding what’s already happened in my heart. “You don’t want to become bitter, do you?” But forgiveness isn’t the issue. Trust is.
How do you have a relationship without trust?
Injury caused brokenness and estrangement.  And, even though I’ve addressed the wound with professionals, the pain keeps resurfacing, taunting me with a promise of total healing if I will just get on the phone, explain my silence, and let bygones be bygones.  “Then we could all move on,” goes the thought.
But I’ve learned that forgiveness doesn’t heal wounds or wound heels. Instead, it extinguishes  my claim to revenge. That’s the part that frees a crippled heart—surrendering the right to retaliate. Still, like a soldier wounded in battle, years later you can find yourself imbedded with shrapnel. After one terrible experience. Eventually every piece will come to the surface, but seldom all at once. And, one piece of shrapnel at a time, you must deal with the wound caused you by someone else.
Even if you forgave them.
So I leaned on the counter, staring at an old china cabinet that threatens at any moment to surrender to old age and throw a dozen fragile teacups onto the tile floor. And I remembered how eager my granddaughter was to open that difficult door all by herself. Determined to enjoy a party with me.  Impatient to help.
And I heard the Lord.
“You’re anxious to help Me, too,” He said. “But you told me you’d let Me handle it.”
He was right. I did.
“If you try to fix this relationship yourself, instead of waiting for Me to do it, you’ll regret it as much as if Allie opened that door by herself.”
I got the picture—I’m quick like that.
I also got relief. He wasn’t disappointed in me. He does not expect me to “fix” things. He’s still removing the shrapnel, piece by painful piece, from my heart. Healing, and maybe even some amount of reconciliation, will happen on His timetable—not mine or anyone else’s.
He’s the only One Who can safely open those fragile doors.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bless This Mess


I planted both tennis shoes firmly in the mucky ground, leaned in with both hands on the tailgate of our old Datsun pickup, and gave it everything I had. Rob gunned the engine, threw it in first gear, and sprayed me from head to toe with mud and grunge. It seemed like such a good idea in theory, but in reality—not so much. Finally we called some experts to tow us out of our own front yard.
That’s what happens when you park your truck on top of a saturated septic drain field. After seven inches of rain. In Florida.
Life is messy.
I don’t like messiness. I like neat and tidy and pleasant. I know I didn’t get a vote on whether or not to attend this event called Life, but since I’m here I’d really like it to be worth the effort. For me, that translates into no problems, no hang-ups, no headaches.
You know, I think I missed my own memo.
I can’t seem to avoid messy. I hate that. Right on the heels of imperfection, my strategy is to pretend everything is fine. You might wonder why. Or maybe you can relate. See, if I pretend everything is fine, I won’t have to face fear and failure and heartache. I won’t risk rejection from the other impersonators all around me. And I won’t have to change.
It’s kind of a dumb plan. It reminds me of that definition for insanity—doing the same thing the same way but expecting different results. Like the time I put flour and hot water in my new Tupperware gravy shaker and the lid blew off. “There must be something wrong with this thing,” I muttered as I wiped hot slurry off my face, and re-filled it with hot water and flour—three more explosive times.
Wow, was that messy.
The hardest part of trying to live perfectly in an imperfect world is . . . trying to live perfectly. The other hard part about trying to be perfect is admitting that you’re not. Don’t you think it’s a little scary to take off your mask and let people see what’s going on underneath?  Still, nobody knows the battles I fight everyday unless I stop covering up the scars. Worse than that, no one can stand beside me and double the odds that I’ll survive.
Not unless I stop pretending that life isn’t messy. Not unless I admit that sometimes I’m a mess. Not unless I stop being surprised that there’s very little in my life I can control.
Is there an upside of messy? Absolutely. I qualify to be loved by Jesus. Embraced by Him. Accepted by Him. Just as I am. Only the imperfect may apply. Those who are perfect don’t need Him. And I do. Desperately. Which proves, I guess, that my life is messy.
Here’s what I’m learning—embrace the messy. It’s a relief to stop pretending. And relax—the truth is there’s nothing I can do to make Jesus let go of me or be disappointed in me. He’s not afraid of a mess.
He really loves me.
And you.
Put that in your Tupperware and shake it.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hallmark Hangover


I might have to give up watching Hallmark movies. It’s okay. It’s a recent addiction so I probably won’t need to stay in rehab for very long.
I have a TV compulsion, which I blame on my Baby Boomer label. That, and a childhood spent in a trailer park—there are no trees to climb when your yard measures eight feet by forty and is covered with a concrete slab. We played kickball outside, sure, but with all the cars parked up and down the street it was more like a game of dodgeball with Buicks. So I watched TV a lot and memorized the entire schedule of TV Guide.
There weren’t many kids in our retiree neighborhood, either, but through the magic of television I became bosom buddies with Gilligan, Jeannie, and The Rifleman.  Wow, did we ever have good times together. If life got boring or lonely, the answer was to go watch TV—it was a harmless little diversion.
I learned how to read, too. How else would I have been able to memorize the TV Guide? I still love the smell of libraries and bookstores, which is why Kindle will never take over the world—paperbacks don’t need to be recharged. So when all three TV channels ran bowling shows or the evening news, I could always go solve crimes with Nancy Drew. Or dream of romance in musty castles (devoid of vampires), and cheer on the boldness of Anne of Green Gables who, it turns out, really is a kindred spirit.
I read books that make me smile and watch movies that make me laugh. I don’t do scary or disturbing, no matter how many Oscar nominations tag along. Life is frightening and unpredictable enough—TV and books are escapes from reality.
But not long after I got married, I gave up paper romances for good. Not only were they becoming R rated, but they always ended at the same place—and they lived happily ever after.  How can a real man and woman in a real marriage compete with romances that end at the beginning? I found myself wishing my husband would sweep me off my feet every night instead of propping up his feet and falling asleep in his chair after work. And I was never satisfied with the body God gave me, wishing instead that I had tiny feet and delicate ankles and a petite frame like the heroines of even Christian novels.
Living vicariously through the lives of vaporous characters is a two-edged sword. I know we can be inspired and educated and encouraged when we read or watch people overcome challenges through books or movies. But there is also a seed of discontent that waits to be sown when we compare our everyday lives with the fiction found on three hundred pages recounting an entire life or in a concise, two hour movie.
Which is why I need to join a Hallmark Movies Anonymous group. Now that Santa has flown home for the season complete with several Mrs. Clauses for all of his sons, Hallmark’s attention has turned to its spring bridal runway of happily ever after movies.  And that’s a recipe for romantic disaster for an oldly-wed like me. If the most important day of a woman’s life is the first one she spends married, what kind of future does that predict for the new Mr. and Mrs.?
Marrying the man of your dreams doesn’t end all the drama that threatened to keep you from reaching the altar. Life is drama—marriage is just a part of it. I want Hallmark to turn out a movie that starts after the honeymoon and gives me hope for the days when I fall into a chair before my man can sweep me off my pudgy feet.
A wedding is not the destination—it’s the vehicle.
Hmm . . . maybe the networks could be talked into bringing back My Mother The Car. Now that was a classic.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

. . . and a Happy New Year!


It seemed like such a simple thing ~ get a referral, get blood tests, get some hormones. Get a clue.
I had to wait two more weeks before the pharmacist had an opening in her schedule. Sadly, I focused on Christmas. The advent calendar on the wall no longer reminded me of the coming birth of the Christ Child. Instead, it represented T minus seventeen days until the Cavalry arrived with my hormones.
I know this sounds overly dramatic to some of you. If you’re a man reading this, you’ve probably had it up to here with hormone excuses.  But I’ve done some research on all this stuff and it’s serious business. Think about this—there are more than fifty hormones in the human body, all delicately balanced upon each other like a row of dominos. Take out one of them—something small and insignificant, like estrogen for example—and the whole house of cards comes toppling down. 
Probably onto you.
Think about that, Jack, the next time you want to drag your menopausal Jill up the hill to fetch a stupid pail of water. Go get it yourself.
Finally, it was the Thursday before Christmas. My doctor’s office faxed the paperwork over to the pharmacist, including every single test ever performed on me—in duplicate.  The only thing missing was the results from the fasting blood draw. Remember? The test that delayed everything three more days?
I have no words.
“I can help you,” the pharmacist said in the voice of an angel sent from God. “We can make you feel better.” I knew I sat in the presence of royalty—or maybe even Wonder Woman.
“You need estrogen and progesterone and testosterone and thyroid support and iodine,” she concluded.  “And we can have it all for you tomorrow. All we need is your doctor’s approval.”
It was like somebody sucked all the air out of my happiness balloon. Instantly I began to fast and pray.
“But it’s my body!” I panicked, knowing she had no idea what she was up against.  “Why does my doctor need to approve anything?” I whined.
She was sure there would be no delays. “We just need a little fax.”
She lost a couple of admiration points right then. Maybe I was mistaken about her being Wonder Woman. Maybe she was more like Superman’s Lois Lane—sincere, but a little naïve. Because saying that all I needed was ‘a little fax’ from my doctor was like saying the federal deficit just needs a little loan. She seemed confident, though, and since it finally felt like someone had listened to me, I hung on to her assurance like a tandem skydiver—terrified of falling, but letting her control the ripcord.
That afternoon I called to see if the pharmacist was in possession of my miracle.
“No,” she replied.
I hate it when I’m right.
“Maybe you should contact your doctor to hurry things along,” she suggested.  Sure. “Hurry” wasn’t exactly in their vocabulary, but I called anyway. In a hurry.
“We’re still waiting for the doctor to approve it,” I was told.  “It’ll probably be ready tomorrow,” she fibbed.
The next afternoon I called my pharmacist.
“We have everything waiting here for you except the faxed approval,” she said.  “I called your doctor’s office this morning, but I still haven’t heard anything.  Why don’t you see if you can light a fire under them?”
I was pretty sure they were fireproof.
You know what comes next.  I called, the doctor had left for the day, didn’t sign anything, and wouldn’t be back until the day after Christmas. A week from now. 
Merry Christmas to me.
I no longer believe in Santa Claus. Or medical science. Or even superheroes. And, I decided, that’s the last time I go skydiving.
Thursday morning, December 26th, six weeks since I began asking for the impossible, I told my husband I was tired of being nice. I was tired of making phone calls. I was tired of being patient.  It was time to pull out some battle fatigues, storm the office, and liberate my captive prescription.
I put on lip gloss and climbed into our SUV.
Not a nurse was in sight when I entered the waiting room. I didn’t even take a chair but stood in the corner, waiting to pounce on the first walking stethoscope who came through the door. A pregnant woman in her eighth month of bladder pressure sat across the room. Sizing up my body language, she made it clear she’d been there first and gave me the stink eye. I was courageous, but I wasn’t stupid. I waited my turn.
“Just a minute,” said the next nurse when I described my mission, and she disappeared around the corner. Soon a cheerful woman in a business suit came through the door and introduced herself to me as the office manager.
“You’re just the person I need to talk to,” I gushed.
She escorted me to the reception desk and I began to explain why I was there. We were interrupted by the nurse, scanning her computer.
“I was just checking your records,” she began.  “I see you were here last April and we ordered some blood work for you. Did you follow up on that?”
And that’s the moment I lost my salvation. And my patience. And my composure. But mostly my salvation.
“Okay,” I began, knowing my face and throat had suddenly flushed ten shades of mad. “I’ve been at this for over a month with this office.” I started at the beginning, and had just reached the part where they ruined my Christmas when the office manager held up her hand and said,
“I faxed the prescription to your pharmacist this morning.”
“You did? The doctor signed it?” I asked incredulously.  “Well, I could kiss your feet!” And then I skipped out of the building, light as a feather, virtually floating on air! And landed with a thud at the edge of the parking lot.
Call it premonition. Disbelief. Woman’s intuition. Or just plain old experience.  But I dialed the pharmacist right on the spot to make sure she really had the signed prescription on her hot little fax. She didn’t. It was nowhere in sight. She called her other office to see if it had been misdirected, but they’d never even heard of me.
I straightened my shoulders, put on more lip gloss, and went back in the building. Walking into the obscure nurses station—with no invitation and making no eye contact with any more pregnant women—I found the office manager. Who located the elusive, autographed documents and made photocopies so I could hand carry them across town to my best friend, the compounding pharmacist.
The door did not hit my behind on the way out.
An hour later, I texted my longsuffering husband that, after six long weeks of negotiations, I was in possession of the liberated bag of hormones and on my way home.
“That was fast,” he joked.  “Were there any survivors at your doctor’s office?” 
It's been a month since I re-introduced my body to the hormones it used to manufacture on its own. I love them so much, if it was them or chocolate, Starbucks would have to close its doors forever. I owe my doctor a debt of gratitude for introducing me to my new best friend, the Compounding Pharmacist. And I'm voting Wonder Woman for president.
So Christmas came late at our house, but it snuck in a happy new year when it did.  I guess, the lesson here is anything worth having is worth waiting for, right?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

All I Want For Christmas . . .


“All I want for Christmas is my hormones,” I whined to my husband last month.
“Yeah,” I’m sure he said, “that’s all I want for Christmas, too.”  I may be estrogen deprived, but I have superior hearing. And fairly good aim.
You might recall that I misplaced some important body parts last summer while snoozing in an operating room. My doctor was reassuring, though, and promised me I was better off without those defective organs. She said the hormones I was missing could be bought at the corner pharmacy for a fairly small amount of money.
She’s such a comedian.
After a couple of trial runs with one-size-fits-all estrogen, I realized that I am not, nor ever will be, an All. I am a Unique. But you can’t buy hormones for Uniques from Walgreens. No sirree. Instead, you have to make an appointment with a different kind of professional. Somebody most people, including medical folks, have never heard of. Someone called . . . a Compounding Pharmacist.
I have never felt more like a hippy.
It doesn’t matter, I was desperate. We were desperate. Look, you can’t just wipe out the complex program God built into a woman’s body—casually referred to as a reproductive system—and then throw a little estrogen at her and tell her to get on with her life.
She’ll take you out with a bazooka.
And here’s a little known fact, even by comedian doctors: woman cannot live by estrogen alone.  Telling her she can is like expecting a car to go from zero to eighty in ten seconds flat, just because you put in a new battery. If it’s out of oil and gas, too, you’re not getting that Chevy out of the garage any time soon.
I didn’t know this before my surgery. Now I know enough to write a book. Or maybe a tiny little  pamphlet.
Fortunately for me, my doctor told me she’d be happy to send me to a compounding pharmacist, and to let her know when I was ready. A couple of weeks later, my husband told me I was ready. He’s so intuitive.
I called my doctor’s office in mid November, hoping to have a brand new bag of hormones in my possession by the next week. Seven days. Remember that. Not since Titanic’s passengers were to told to ‘sit back and enjoy their trip’ have expectations ever been so submarined.
“What pharmacy would you like to use?” the young nurse asked. I didn’t know I had a choice. The staff my doctor employs is sweet as can be, but I’m convinced every single one of them graduated from high school last week. I have makeup older than they are. And not one of them knew any more about compounding pharmacies than I did. So I got a name, called the doctor’s office back, and spoke to a completely different nurse.
“Just a minute,” she interrupted. “Why do you need blood work for a pharmacist? Are they drawing your blood?”
I didn’t know who was drawing my blood. I just wanted somebody to do it and then give me a can of hormones. Was that too much to ask?
“Let me talk to the doctor,” she said, and put me on hold.  When she returned she said I couldn’t go to the pharmacist I’d found. The one they asked me to locate. The one I’d already spoken with. Instead, my doctor preferred I use someone of her choice. Seems like they could have told me that in the first place.
I could read the illegible handwriting on the wall.
So I contacted the new pharmacist, got a long list of necessary blood work, and was referred back to my doctor. Here’s where I get confused—why was I the liaison between these two professionals?  It took forty-eight hours just to get through all those phone calls. At that rate, all hopes of my husband ever having a balanced wife again were—well, actually he’s never had one.
I called my doctor’s office again.
“Please, please,” I begged the new confused nurse, who—big surprise—had never heard of a compounding pharmacist, “just let me come in and give you some of my blood so I can go buy hormones!”  It was kind of creepy. I didn’t know if saying that made me feel more like a vampire or a drug addict.
“Well, the doctor has to write your blood work order,” she stalled.  “Give us forty-eight hours and, when we have it, we’ll call you.”  
Now, don’t get me wrong. I adore my doctor. I respect her judgment. I even like the way she painted the walls in the waiting room. But how is it possible that nine out of her ten nurses—who know how to take blood pressure and give injections—can’t remember a simple promise to call a desperate woman the minute her blood tests are ordered?
Four days later I played another round of Nurse Roulette and called to see if the order had materialized.
“Oh, yeah,” I was told. “It’s here waiting for you.”
Waiting for me. Like I was holding them up. I drove over to the doctor’s office right away since they said the phlebotomist was still there. But when I arrived ten minutes later, I was told she finished early and had just left.
“But you told me to come right over!” I exclaimed, tears filling my eyes and spilling onto the paperwork the nurse held hostage in her hands. “And here I am!  Call her back! Stop her car! Give me the needle—I can probably find a vein!”
I think I scared them a little.
The next thing I knew, I was being ushered to a back room—far away from the terrified patients in the lobby—and suddenly a woman wearing a paisley coat and sunglasses set her purse down on the examining table and tied a giant rubber band around my arm. She didn’t look very happy.
She sucked out almost all the blood the pharmacist wanted. Then she said I’d have to come back the next week for one more blood draw—something about fasting first. Yet another little detail they could have mentioned before they yanked her out of the car she left running in the parking lot.
It was now Friday, a week before Thanksgiving, and ten days since inexperience waved a white flag and surrendered to red tape.  The phlebotomist and I struck a bargain—I’d come back in three days, and she could go home to drink a glass of wine and forget all about her crummy job.
“We’ll give you a call when the results are in,” the young nurse said cheerfully before shoving me out the door. I’ll bet, I thought sarcastically, and headed home to punch out a frozen turkey. At least it couldn’t press charges.
I had a peaceful Thanksgiving, as well as a peaceful Black Friday, uninterrupted by a single pesky telephone call. It’s exactly what I should have wanted for the holidays.  Finally, on Monday, two and a half weeks into the search for my very own personal hormone supply, I called Nurse Number Seven. Who found my blood work from last April, as well as last June, but was clueless about my recent blood draw.
And that is why normal, everyday Americans come up with conspiracy theories. Because there’s absolutely no reason on God’s green earth for all that confusion except this—the FDA has dispatched counterintelligence determined to sabotage my freedom of pharmaceutical choice.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I sighed. Heavily. I think I even sobbed a little. Seemingly out of nowhere, my file suddenly appeared and the nurse spoke these five beautiful words –
“Your blood work is in.”  Then she hesitated. “And you want me to send it to . . . a pharmacist?”
Honest to Pete.  You can’t make this stuff up.


Tomorrow ~ And A Happy New Year



Photo courtesy of paparutzi's photostream @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/28396605@N00/2128165158