Sunday, June 28, 2009

Another Day of Rest?

Tony and I are big believers in low key Sundays. We go to church in the morning and then spend the rest of the day just hanging out...usually alone...but sometimes with friends. We either come home and relax before fixing and eating a nice dinner together or we picnic at any one of our favorite spots in DC and then read until it is too dark to see anymore. It's one of my favorite parts our life together.

Today's events have been anything but low key and I wanted to share them and my thoughts about them with you.

Upon arrival at church this morning, I did my usual thing of reading through the bulletin as soon as I sat down while the prelude was being played. I was shocked to find that a friend's daughter had died unexpectedly on Friday. Knowing some of the details of this young woman's life, I was saddened but not surprised to find out after discreet questioning that she had indeed committed suicide.

There are no real answers in this scenario, only broken hearts with many questions.

After church, Tony and I went to the funeral home for the visitation (what people in other parts of the country call the wake. Southerners call it the visitation). In sitting through the afternoon with my friend, I did something unusual. I watched people to see how they were reacting. Usually I'm too busy in that sort of situation making sure everyone has what they need. Playing organizer or hostess seems to be my self assigned role most of the time.

Anyway, I sat back this time and watched. I was interested in the responses. Most people seemed to think they needed to have some sort of special thing to say, ranging from a shared memory or a super spiritual platitude. If they had nothing to share, they seemed to be somewhat afraid to just hug my friend and her surviving daughter (the twin sister of the one who died) or to show their own emotions.

Don't get me wrong. There were many hugs being exchanged. I just saw a reserve in the body language of many people that you don't see if the death has come after a long illness or as the result of an accident of some sort. I wanted to shake a few people and tell them that it was ok to show their own emotions and to sit with my friend in her pain.

The young woman who died was a Christian. She was, in her healthier days, a strong witness for Christ in her workplace. There is no doubt in my mind that she is worshiping at the Throne of God at this very moment. The young woman who died was also mentally ill and on a downward spiral for many months. She had a biological chemical imbalance that led her down this path as a result of voices in her head she could not silence. We could debate the source of the voices all day long, but that's not where I'm going with this, either.

The fact that she was both a Christian and mentally ill creates confusion for a great many people, thus the uncertainty about how to respond. We tend to want things to be neat and tidy and easily addressable. Suicide and mental illness are anything but neat, tidy and easily addressable...especially within the Church.

Many people believe that suicide is the unpardonable sin even though there is no Scriptural basis for such a view. Still others believe that mental illness can be cured simply by being spiritual enough or by doing all the right things that "good Christians" are supposed to do. That's not Scriptural, either. These views result in faulty responses that often add to the pain of the situation rather than help it. People also sometimes seem to be uncomfortable with the emotional pain of another person and therefore shy away rather than coming alongside the hurting soul to walk the valley with them.

I saw the whispered conversations today behind hands. I can imagine what they were about...anything from the flowers to the lovely antique organ on the wall to gossiping about why this young woman had not gotten the help she needed.

I saw the tears in eyes of people as they mirrored the pain in the eyes of my friend. I was proud of my friend for not hiding her own tears...for her honest response to this horrible circumstance.

I heard the prayers for my friend and her surviving daughter and know that God heard them, too. In spite of the broken hearts there was a peace that passes understanding present in that funeral parlor today. It was a thing of beauty in a place of ugliness that is death. Christ walks our dark valleys with us whether we realize it or not.

Even though she left a letter, all of our questions will not be answered this side of Heaven. There will always be "what if" and "if only" and "WHY?" though they will grow less pressing over time. A mother will have to learn not to blame herself or to assign blame to the father and brother that deserted her and her two daughters. A twin sister will have to learn to live without part of herself. If they have any heart at all, the bureaucrats who denied her treatment will have to face their own questions as well.

All of this is messy and untidy and not easily addressed. Here are some hints, though, on how to deal with situations like mine when you don't know what to say or do.

1. Put aside your fear and reach out.

2. Reaching out can be as simple as a quick pat on the shoulder or a card in the mail or an email. Depending on how well you know the person, offer to take them to get professional help if needed and then do not abandon them during their healing process.

3. When you have a friend dealing with depression who is also a Christian, offer to pray with and for them. Don't worry about saying the "right" or "wrong" thing. God will guide your mouth if you ask.

4. Assume nothing. If you haven't been there, you don't know what they are going through.

5. Treat them like you'd treat anyone else who was sick or who had a broken limb. Look them in the eye when you speak and LISTEN when they speak.

6. Include them in activities. Invite them and give them the opportunity to say no. Sure, a person who is depressed can be hard to be around, but it is so important to them to know that someone cares.

7. Remember that it is not about you, but about them.

If you are struggling yourself with thoughts of suicide or other signs of depression or mental illness, please get help. Email me directly at or contact your local house of worship and ask to speak to a pastor or pastoral counselor. If you are in immediate need, go to the nearest ER and tell them you are afraid you will harm yourself if you don't get some help. Ask to speak to a chaplain.

There is no shame in mental illness. It is no different than physical illness. If your leg was broken, you'd seek treatment, right? A broken spirit, soul or heart is no's just not as visible.

My heart aches for my friend as she is walking this valley but I know she is not walking it alone. The same Jesus who walked His own valley and triumphed also walked with me through my valley into triumph. He will walk with her, too.

Friday, June 26, 2009

While I Was Sleeping

I've been home sick with a bladder infection since Wednesday. It's one of the realities of life with catheters. I've slept all day. When I'm sick, I sleep hard, oblivious to the things unfolding around me.

Take yesterday for instance. We'd gotten up early to run to the drugstore. I slept in the car while Tony drove and ran in to pick up the scripts. We came back and I laid back down on the bed (freshly made by the sweet husband person) and slept some more. He didn't even complain that I wrinkled the bed spread. He's a good egg.

Tony says he woke me up before he left for work, but I don't remember it. My first awareness of a world outside of dreamland was a sharp Doxie bark in my ear. She's wonderful for cuddly sleeping when I'm sick or while reading a book. She's the best until she's tired of being on the big bed or of sitting still. Then, the barking starts. She climbed up on my shoulder put her little snout right in my ear and barked. Apparently she was hungry, thirsty AND needed to go out.

This sleeping hard thing is a recurring theme of my life. We have family pictures of me asleep after holiday meals in the most awkward of situations and positions. When I was in college, a group of my friends waited for me to fall asleep on a couch and then carried the couch all around the campus quad until they found the perfect spot for it and left me there until I woke up the next morning. My husband has learned not to count on me for navigational help since I'm always asleep before we ever leave the District.

The sleep is refreshing and comforting, but I miss things as a result. I've apparently missed out on heated family discussions, loud Scrabble games, entire sporting events, movies, sermons (yes, I admit it...I've slept in church!), and all sorts of beautiful scenery along the side of the road.

Yesterday while I was sleeping all sorts of things happened. Legislation was debated less than a mile from here. People's futures were decided based on votes on said legislation. Dogs were walked. Babies were born. Tears were shed. Laughter was heard. Games were played.

Yesterday while I was sleeping, America...and the world...lost two pop icons. This morning, it was announced that Farrah Fawcett lost her lengthy battle with cancer. This afternoon, right around rush hour here on the East Coast, Michael Jackson died of an apparent heart attack.

I was in middle school when the Farrah look became popular. I, like every other middle school girl, begged for the LOOK that would define hair styles for a generation or more. My hair was duly cut by my best friend's Mom and I learned to fix it in the "winged" style.

I wonder if the hair spray industry sponsored Farrah's career? They certainly profited from it. My love affair with hair spray came to a screeching halt not long after college graduation. My hair was big enough on its own, thank you, without the added laquer to make it JUMBO. It took me a little longer to get over my perm fixation, but I digress....

The first time I remember being aware of Michael Jackson was in the 8th grade when I heard him being discussed in very hushed yet awed tones during lunch at the private Christian school I attended. We'd all signed contracts that we'd not listen to "that" type of music so I was floored by the audacity of the girls around me to even mention anything that wasn't on the approved list. I, after all, was a champ at sticking to the approved list. I sat there with my Farrah hair and wondered who this marvel of falsetto and fabulous dance moves might be all the while wearing a scowl of disapproval.

By the time I reached high school & then college, I'd outgrown my self righteousness to a point of being able to enjoy the Jackson 5 and Michael himself. While I didn't own a red leather jacket with mesh trim, I had a ton of friends who did. We all wore a glove on one hand (I wore one on both hands, but they were at least different colors so I sort of fit in) and my nephew was a champ at the moon walk.

Farrah Fawcett encouraged me with her bravery in the face of that horrible thing called cancer as well as her willingness to face it honestly and transparently. She inspired me with her beauty and willingness to chase her dreams. She was willing to allow herself to be seen as a real person with real be a living Velveteen Rabbit.

Michael Jackson sang songs that I associate with many of my most treasured memories. I vividly remember my friends recreating the moves from Thriller at a dance after a basketball game during my senior year in HS. I remember the searing indignation I felt after being "dissed" by a boy upon whom I had a major crush that was underscored by the lyrics of Say, Say, Say. I remember swaying to We Are the World with my fellow summer missionaries at our commissioning ceremony at Georgetown College. I remember knowing with certainty after hearing Man in the Mirror for the first time that I'd always think of it as a secular hymn about generosity and caring about those around you...about living out the Gospel. I remember dancing with one of the best boyfriends ever to I'll Be There (Mariah Carey's recording of Michael's song) and thinking that no one had ever been more in love. He's married to someone else now, which I'm sure makes my husband, the real love of my life, very happy.

Michael Jackson, while a musical genius, is also one of the most tragic figures of pop culture. I truly believe that his odd life style hallmarked by the surroundings at Neverland Ranch were the cries of a broken hearted little boy who was exploited by his father and never knew what it was to be loved simply for himself. Hopefully the parents of today's child actors and singers will figure out that their egos are less important than the happiness, success and normal development of their children. I have to wonder what his father must be thinking now. I can bet he isn't wishing he'd cut a better deal on the recording contracts.

Farrah Fawcett, while beautiful and inspiring, also struggled with being loved for herself. It took her being on her deathbed for the man she loved to propose to her. I can't imagine how that must have felt. The message: don't wait until the last minute to commit, to express your love, to live a life with the person who holds your heart. You never know when the last minute will be irrevocably gone.

Life in the fish bowl of celebrity is hard.

Life lived with a great talent is exhausting.

Life without God is a constant search for meaning.

While I was sleeping, life was happening.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What if?

The whole city of DC seems to be engaged in the health care debate. You hear about universal health insurance, cost effectiveness, need based treatment, private pay, single pay... AD NAUSEUM! I am already weary of it and we're only at the beginning. If I as a private citizen and health care consumer am already weary of it, what must those on the front lines of the battle be thinking and feeling.

With all this talk of universal coverage and need based treatment and such, something really important is being overlooked: the basic customer service aspect of the health care industry. As a person with chronic health problems, I consider myself a pretty good judge of good customer service in a medical setting. It begins with your first phone call to the provider's office, not with the time you spend with the doctor.

Until the first of May, Tony & I were covered under COBRA. We were paying $1000 a month. Yes, that is one thousand dollars for very excellent coverage for two adults, one reasonably healthy (Tony) and the other an insurance company's nightmare (me). The most important coverage we had was our prescription drug coverage. I did find replacement coverage, but it is a huge hassle to switch everyone's information - have to call the pharmacy, the different doctors' offices and so on. My GP's office did not receive my information for reasons we will get to later. Suffice to say that since Friday of last week, I have been trying to get my four regular scripts established with the new insurance and making sure that Walgreen's had all the information they needed as well.

It is now Wednesday. As of 3pm today things were still not resolved and I had run out of my emergency supply. So, I called my doctor's office for the FIFTH time this week (not to mention the 3 times on Friday). No one seemed to be answering the phone or returning calls left in the voice mail or anything helpful like that. I had reached the end of my patience with everyone involved. So, I decided that I should try to call one more time before just showing up on their doorstep to wait until the situation was resolved.

I didn't feel well and was really cranky by the time I managed to FINALLY get someone on the phone at the GP's office. It went something like this:

Ring riiinnnngggg ringgggggggg (as the phone rang for six consecutive times, I managed to compose myself and decided to be perfectly pleasant towards whomever happened to answer the phone) RIIINNNNGGGGGGGG!!

Finally, a human voice on the other end.

Recptionist: "Hello, Dr. ---'s Office."

Me: "Hello, this is Melissa and I've been trying to reach someone there about the change in my insurance and getting all of my scripts properly transferred."

R: "AND? We're busy here. Send us a fax."

Me: "Ma'am, I did send you a fax. I faxed you, the insurance company faxed you and the pharmacy faxed you. I also left several messages and those calls were not returned, either."

R: "Oh, well...maybe our fax machine is broken. Let me check....yeah, it's broken and has been for about a week."

(picture the color in my cheeks beginning to rise and my voice becoming tight while still being polite)

Me: "I have also left several messages in the voice mail and no one has called me back."

R: "Returning calls is not my responsibility."

Me: Anyway, I am out of meds that I need on a daily basis and the insurance company isn't going to cover them until they receive signed paperwork from your office."

R: "AND?! Well, the answer is simple. Go to the pharmacy and pay for them out of pocket. This is so not my problem."

When I proceded to explain to her that I couldn't afford them out of pocket, she hung up on me. I called back and spoke to a supervisor. I was in tears by this point.

Finally, after threatening to call the doctor at home (I knew how to find him through another doctor friend), the proper paperwork was magically faxed, signed and then refaxed to all the appropriate places.

It wasn't the lack of efficiency of the office. It wasn't the broken fax machine. It wasn't the frustration of the pharmacist who was trying her best to be helpful.

The thing about the situation that nearly broke my spirit was the lack of compassion and the plain old bad customer service. All I wanted was someone to listen to care about my problem... to do their job and fix the problem. Was that too much to ask?

To me, the biggest problem in health care today isn't the lack of coverage or availability of care but a lack of empathy and compassion. Doctors can do great things because of their great skills. But, if their staff is rude or unempathetic it ruins the whole experience. How would the woman who was so hateful to me on the phone feel if the roles had been reversed?

The next time you are in a position to serve someone, ask yourself how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Ask yourself how you'd want someone you love to be treated. The answer probably won't surprise you, but the results of implementing the answer just might.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My friend Zach

In 1989, I got to meet an up and comer in East TN politics at the national YR convention in Nashville, TN. The first thing that struck me about this person was his huge personality complete with the gift of gab. Turns out that he was in real estate development, so the personality came in handy. Smile. After a few minutes of conversation, it became obvious to me that I was meeting an emerging leader of my generation. I decided to look over his shoulder for the rest of the convention and see if my initial impression was correct - that he walked his talk and knew what leadership really was all about.

He knew then and he knows now that leadership isn't about making bold statements and big promises. It's about having compassion and common sense and doing the RIGHT THING no matter what the situation is and who is or is not watching. It's about being true to yourself and the convictions you hold even when they aren't politically expedient or correct. If you are an elected official, it's about "dancing with the one who brung you", or the people of the district you have been elected to represent. Leadership is about considering everyone you lead equally, even if you don't have anything in common with their life situation and experience.

This person is a leader. He is a leader in his home and loves his wife completely and sacrificially. He is not only a father to his children but a Daddy. He is a leader in his church and an example of what a godly man is all about. He is a leader in his community and has been available day or night to people who are struggling with the same things he himself has battled.

A leader treats people with respect. Early on in our friendship, I had the opportunity to see how he interacted with people and I found out that he treated every single person he met with the same respect no matter who they were, what they looked like, or what they could offer him.

A leader always has a posse, commonly known as the inner circle of advisers. This guy has a great posse, some of whom have been a part of his life since childhood. I've met several of the people in that posse and they are all men of integrity just like him. They tell him when he's wrong and they cheer him on in all of his endeavors and stick around no matter what. Everyone should hang out with this group at least once so you can understand what real friendship is. Seeing their bond influenced me in many of my friendships because I learned to ask the right questions: would this friend be there through thick and thin? And: would this person always tell me the truth and be there to help straighten me out when I made a mistake?

Leaders must have followers. Since 1994, the people in his home district in TN have chosen him as their Congressman. Like me, they recognized a leader when they saw one and made sure that he got elected and continues to be reelected. I recently met up with him in his office in DC and found out that even though he's a respected Congressman, he still has time for old friends and he still is that same talkative person of integrity that I met 20 years ago. He is still the kind of person that you know you can trust. He is still the kind of leader that we need today.

While he had done an amazing job as a Congressman, he has made the choice this year to go home to Tennessee and seek the office of Governor. His is the kind of leadership that Tennessee needs right now in order to ride out these tough times and fulfill its potential.

In case you'd not guessed it by now, I'm talking about my friend, Zach Wamp, future Governor of the Great State of Tennessee.

God's ways are not our ways.

Mick Jagger is known for singing the lyrics, "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need." While I am not a huge fan, there is a lot of truth in that statement, especially in life regarding the human condition.

My husband and I live on a shoestring. He's a full time student who works about 10 hours a week. I'm looking for a job, preferably on The Hill, but jobs with conservatives are pretty hard to come by these days given the outcome of November's elections. However, our needs are always met. We've never missed a rent payment and we've never gone hungry. There's always been gas in the car or money for a fare card for the train (subway). Lucy has never lacked for food, either. Dates are simple, often consisting of tuna sandwiches, a blanket and books to read on the Capitol lawn. We enjoy being together, so it's ok that the frills aren't there right now. Better days will come.

The thing is, I can't tell you how all of those bills were paid. As in, I don't know where the money always came from. All I know is that every month our needs have been met without fail. God has seen to that and we've trusted Him to continue to see to that. God doesn't always give us what we want...or what we think we want. He does, however, always give us what we need. Satisfaction can be found.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spared because of Lucy.

I never ceased to be amazed at how God works. His ways are definitely not my ways. He uses things that I'd never think were usable.

Today I had to go to the bank and stopped to window shop on the way home. Then, I got on the train...going the wrong direction. When I realized I wouldn't make it home before Tony had to leave for work, I got off the train to call him since cell phones don't work in the subways. Then, I got back on the train and went to the store to meet him (he works retail when he's not in class). After hanging out there for a while, I realized it was almost 5pm and that I really did need to get home.

Hold your thought there and let me explain about Lucy before we continue.

Lucy is a dachshund. She has been with me for about 7 years. When we got her, she was advertised to us as being a black and tan mini dachshund. In reality, she is an all black standard dachshund. It just goes to show that you can never believe everything you read on the internet (ha ha). Because she is so sweet and so unusual, we are always approached by people wanting to pet her. She does love to greet her public, too, so these sessions often take time. Sigh.

I was at the station elevator and had pressed the button to call it. A woman and her daughter approached me to pet Lucy so I didn't get on the elevator when it came. I heard the train roar into and out of the station while Lucy was having her moment. I was so annoyed because I wanted to just get home. Of course I didn't act annoyed. That's not appropriate when someone is just trying to be friendly and nice.

I did get on the next train. We left the station and sat in the tunnel. I was, of course, sitting in the car behind the driver's compartment as it is usually the best place for my chair. I could hear frantic voices over the radio but was unsure what was going on. We just continued to sit but did eventually move. I transferred trains at the appropriate station and went on home.

My phone was ringing when I got home. My usually calm husband was trying to get in touch with me and could not get through on my cell. It wasn't until I talked to him that I realized the gravity of the accident.

We pieced together the timeline and realized that yes, indeed, I would have been on that train had someone not stopped to pet Lucy.

God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes he even uses a dog named Lucy.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The First One

At long last I've started an official blog. I've been reading everyone else's blogs and even tried doing one on My Space. It became problematic for several reasons, so I abandoned it. Not sure I like what that indicates about me, probably that I lack follow through or something like that. Ah, so... I'm still maturing. I love leaving notes on Facebook, though, so maybe I'm more mature than I think. :)

My name is Melissa and I am first and foremost a child of God. I came to Christ at the age of 5 but have lived a less than exemplerary example of the Christian life most of the time. Thank God for Christ's atoning blood...and for Grace!

I am married to Tony and we live in Washington, DC, where he is in seminary working towards his MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship. We are unable to have human children so our Dachshund, Lucy, is affectionately called our "dogter". I adore being Tony's wife and Lucy's slave, er, mom.

I am currently unemployed so I'll probably be blogging more than I should in order to get the thoughts racing around in my head out so I can concentrate on writing actual concise cover letters rather than two page missives every time I send out a resume. Cover letters are supposed to sell you to employers, not serve as a platform for comments on issues and such.

I toyed with different titles for this blog: Random Musings of a Capitol Belle... Life from A Shortened Perspective...Shooting from the Hip... and the list goes on. For now, I think I'm going to stick with Rolling Along. As you get to know me, you'll realize that the title, like a whole lot of other things I say, has more than one meaning and is very appropriate for me. :)

My life verse is John 10:10. "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." The "I" here is Jesus. The "abundance" everything about my life. Tony and I have a great marriage, a great apartment and enough food. That is abundance. We are on a typical starving seminary student budget, but we have everything we need and sometimes what we want.

I am an avid reader, especially of Christian "chick lit" by people like Janice Thompson, Kristen Billerbeck, Denise Hildreth, and Tracey V. Bateman. For more serious reading, I love to kick back with anything by Brock and Bodie Thoene or Karen Kingsbury. Oh, and let's not forget Mary Kay Adams, Margaret Truman and anything else I find along the way that strikes my fancy. Books are my addiction. I don't like the library because I can't write in books I borrow. My husband and my bank account would probably be happier if I did, though. Another thing to work on... (two item list so far: follow through and utilizing the library).

Writing comes naturally to me since it is really just talking on paper. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am definitely a talker (see, I can tell the truth about myself in more than one area!) but that I also listen readily. Maybe this blog will allow me to get my communication quota out so I won't talk so much. We can only hope. :)

It is odd that I would start blogging on Father's Day evening (well, it's actually Monday AM at this point) since I tend to not celebrate Father's Day. My own Dad died when I was 5 and my father in law is NYC. Lucy pretends to celebrate it for Tony, though.

Anyway, my life is abundant. It is not, however, without pain. The pain is not altogether a bad thing because it shapes me in ways that nothing else can. More on that later.

More random stuff about me (possibly a top 1o list, but we'll see):

1. I love eggs fried over VERY easy but not sunny side up.
2. I am NOT a vegetarian. If it used to moo, oink, or cackle...I'll eat it.
3. I love brussels sprouts and most other green vegetables.
4. I am not a huge cat fan but find that a few of them have wormed their ways into my heart (Ivan & Peter, Seamus, Swazy & Suki - that's for you).
5. I'm part of a great on line prayer group called the Minyan (Love you Jo, Bo, & Ro!) and we pray daily for each other, our nation and our world.
6. Taco Bell is my guilty pleasure...along with The Bachelor/Bachelorette.
7. My husband is my best friend.
8. I love pretty things but am not a girly girl: I don't mind running around town without all my make up in place.
9. I LOVE BIG DOGS! Big dogs ROCK! (I used to have two Newfoundlands and miss being owned by a big dog)
10. Dachshunds also rock...they are big dogs in little bodies.
11. I am ferociously protective of people I love.
12. My husband is the housekeeper in our family...I fail at that part of wifery. Sigh.
13. My favorite color is purple... no green (depends on which day you ask).
14. Fake people annoy me.
15. People who communicate in code annoy me.
16. My dream job is being a Capitol Hill staffer.

To close: some thoughts about fathers.

Charles, my earthly father. I miss you but I do remember you. I can't wait to see you in Heaven.

Mr. C, my adopted earthly father, aka my fairy godfather. I miss you, too, now since you left us in January. I shutter to think that you and Daddy are swapping Melissa stories in Heaven right now. Sigh.

Pop, my precious "other" father I gained through marriage. You are one of the most upstanding men I know. Thank you for raising your son to be such a wonderful husband. Thank you for making a place in your heart for me even when other people didn't want you to. Please stay reasonably healthy...I've had too much loss this year and am not ready to loose you.

Happy Father's Day, guys. I love you.

Rolling along to dreamland,