February 28, 2022

I am one of many, in this community, and in the world at large, feeling the weight of fear. We see snippets on the news. We watch the skyrocketing gas prices. We hear the terrifying word “war.” And we wait. We wait for the “bomb to drop,” so to speak—crudely at least. 

My pastor once told me, as I was reeling from my grandmother’s death, that, (roughly quoted), “people may say what they will but, when it comes down to it, death is evil. No matter how inevitable it is, or how long a life has been . . . death is evil.”

Somehow those words brought me great comfort. They validated the horror I had felt when watching my GramBea breathe her last breaths.

Now I wonder if that same brutal truth applies to war. Evil. When it comes down to it.

Over the past few days I’ve been binging news sources, after realizing that I was woefully out of touch with the current events in the Ukraine. It helped in one sense; but, in another, I felt my nerves amping up. I found myself snapping at the dog if he lingered too long in a sniff-patch while we walked. I fought back rapid-breath nerves when envisioning the work challenges to come. I wondered what I should do to help.

And then I realized that I can only do what I know to do. At the moment, I have no influence in what is happening across the ocean. I cannot even control what is to come in the full week of medical work I have in my own realm of life. It is all, for now, a bit of a waiting game.

This morning, one of the songs we sang for the worship service was one that I have fond memories of. When I was attending a multi-cultural, inner-city church decades ago, we would celebrate MLK day each year by gathering in a large circle around the sanctuary, holding hands and singing “We shall overcome.” It made me cry each year. I also was a part of a fabulously eclectic and rowdy gospel choir there. We would periodically sing “Leaning on the everlasting arms.” And when we did, it was a show. Our choir director would have us sway in unison, leaning heartily against each other when it came to the chorus:

Leaning, Leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms . . .

This morning, in our little mountain church, I let loose. It was not the expected course of action for a Presbyterian worship team. And I didn’t even know if it was visible to the congregation. But when we got to that chorus, I smiled and I leaned while I sang.

Later, as I was getting into my car, I was stopped by a woman calling out from her own car window.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean for you to get wet . . . I just wanted you to know how much it meant to me this morning, to see you leaning during the songs. Thank you . . .”

There was no further explanation. I have no idea why it was meaningful to her. But I do know that it brought a sense of purpose to my own life on this cold and wet Sunday morning.

I can do so little if I focus on the tragedy in our world at large. But I can lean on the everlasting arms.

*photo is a recent favorite piece (of peace? ;) of our homestead life

some days …

February 19, 2022

This morning it occurred to me that I’m feeling beaten by the week. Or, more precisely, by my dealings with hospital billing departments. Thinking about how consuming it’s been, I tried to talk myself out of writing about it; my rationale was that my writing should be used for good stories, well told, and not “wasted” on annoying aspects of daily life. But then I realized that if I’m trying to tell stories about the real stuff of life, it’s a bit dishonest to appear as if I don’t deal with the same humdrum stuff of it as everyone else. So there’s your fair warning: this is a tale of the humdrum…

I should preface with the background information that we have been fielding various bills, from all manner of hospitals and clinics and providers ever since Peter’s accident in September. For the smaller ones, it’s seemed reasonable to just pay the amount up front, as soon as possible. But for all that run over about $1000 I’ve tried to jump through the hoops offered to us uninsured folks to try to get a lower bill. Some have worked. Others are still pending.

One of those amounts to more than our entire listed annual income last year. Granted, we fall rather squarely into a low income bracket; and we tend to consider our goat milk, rabbit meat, fresh eggs, and garden produce as a sort of non-monetary “income.” But the number still gives pause. And that facility’s process has been notably tedious to work through, involving semi-weekly paperwork submissions and phone calls. It’s been a good thing I don’t have a full time job.

This past Monday I get a text from Peter that he’s been called by collections, informing him that we have been sent to collections for not taking care of that bill in time. My initial dismay soon turns to confusion when I realize that I have spoken with the hospital since the deadline he’d been told, and each time I have done so they say to continue waiting while our case is processed. I have also asked them to make a note on our account about that fact, wanting to make it clear that we are not avoiding the bill.

Later in the day, after work, I do two things: one is a re-sending of my last emailed documents, asking them to reconsider our case and asking why we were sent to collections. Then I call the number that has become one of my favorite contacts. I punch the numbers before the automated prompt finishes talking. I then hum along with the easy jazz, anticipating each next tune in their playlist. “How may I help you today” interrupts the music.

I launch into my prepared spiel, explaining that I submitted the main financial aid application papers on November 29, sent in the follow-up request on December 23, and had spoken several times since then with agents who told me to keep waiting, as it was in process. Why then, I ask, have we been sent to collections?

Another short hold later, the agent returns and confirms that yes, all my paperwork has been received on time and that, no, we should not have been sent to collections. What do we do now?, I ask. We continue to wait, I am told. Ok.

On Thursday of this same week I receive an email response that states, simply, “Hello-please call 888-***-**** for an update on your case.”

Assuming I will receive the same information I had gotten earlier this week, I decide to call anyway.

Another series of automations. Another hold. 

“How can I help you today?” I hear. Explaining my reason for calling again, I wait a bit more until the agent returns.

“I see here on your account that you are not responsible for the $,$$$ date of service bill. You do owe $118 for the other dates of service.”

My mouth drops open and I gasp. I ask her to repeat the information, rewording it several times to be sure I am hearing it correctly.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Um…no …thank you…

I call Peter and stammer out the news. We breathe the goodness together for a moment. I tell him I’m afraid to believe it until we get the new bill. He agrees.

Later in the afternoon, it occurs to me that I can test this by just asking to pay the bill now, and my level of excitement builds at the prospect of having it done. Only one other bill pending after this one …

I make the call. “How much would you like to pay today?”

All of it, I think, I say.

That will be $,$$$.

Oh no, I tell her. I spoke with someone earlier today who said we now only owe $118…

A few moments later she replies that no, we still owe the full balance. “I don’t know why you were told that,” she said. “Your plea was denied on  February 3.”

I lose my words at this point, beginning to stammer. But I talked to someone on February 14. I don’t understand…I don’t understand…

She then asks if I would like to speak to a supervisor. Unsure if I can even speak coherently anymore, I agree.

The supervisor is, thankfully, both kind and efficient. “I know it’s been a little while for you,” she says. “Actually, it’s been a very long time. I apologize for that. The reason is that we don’t usually have bills this large” I can’t help but let out a short grunt of agreement. “And yes, it was turned down on February 3. But it was also sent for another review. For a bill this large, it has to go through all the levels…”

When she has finished talking she offers to give me her name, so that I can ask for clarification from her in the future. She says that she hopes it will be approved but that she cannot guarantee anything.

I’m emotional by the time I hang up, expressing my gratitude for her help, and agreeing to continue to wait.

We wait …


February 10, 2022

“I feel bad…,” I told Peter, as he was leaving this evening, “…bad for getting mad at him. But I’m still frustrated.” I was on second shift tonight, in a sense, taking over with Bart while Peter went out for a weekly evening running group. I used to do it with him but have been sidelined from running for about a month now, thanks to an odd pain in my hip.

I’d taken Bart out for his afternoon walk when I got home from work today and, trying to get out the door, had gotten annoyed when he insisted on going straight back to Peter each time I tried to get him to come out with me as I stood, holding the leash. Knowing that he loves his walks, and his usually overly eager to bound out the door, I couldn’t figure out why he insisted on plopping next to Peter in the living room.

Later on this evening, once Peter had returned home, we sat together on the couch. Watching Bart, I commented that, “I don’t get it. I don’t get why he insists on following you around like that . . .”

And then, as he does, Peter made one of those observations that pops out of his mouth as if it is the simplest thing ever: an observation that leaves me stunned afterwards with its profundity and the wisdom.

I think it’s a foster thing, Peter began . . . and then he explained that, when we first got Della, she seemed to take about a year to really settling into the fact that she was home here. That she was safe. 

He went on to explain that it seems as though Bart is afraid of being left behind. And since Peter is the one home during the days, letting Bart tag along during homestead chores, Peter is the one Bart has latched onto as his person. And if that person leaves his sight, he panics.

My eyes welled up as I went over to Bart after that. I knelt next to him and stroked his face. “Hey bud—you know what? We’re not going anywhere. And you’re not either. You’re stuck with us. You hear me?”

He looked up at me, lifting his paw and resting it on my forearm. I rubbed his belly and kissed his nose. I think he heard me. I think he forgives me. And I think there’s a little bit of Bart in most of us . . .