Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Birthday Girl Goes to China

Anna, our most delicate child, is yet again doing something big and bold. When she was a newborn, she lost weight and failed to thrive. But she made up for it later with spunk and discipline.
She was tiny -- way underneath the charts, but she never gave up. She didn't walk until she was 20 months. We held her back a year because she hadn't done 2nd grade math even in 3rd grade. We wondered, "What will she become? What will she be able to do?"
And she never disappointed! She learned to work hard to compensate for every shortfall. She cried but picked herself back up after every setback. She took ballet and played volleyball, and didn't quit. She did college algebra (!!) and developed such amazing study skills that she's flourishing at college.
She's grown into a beautiful young woman who loves Jesus and loves being involved in His kingdom on this earth. Today's her birthday. And this summer she's following her dream and God's call on her life, and going to China.
God is doing astounding things in China, and I wish that more Americans were as aware of what's happening spiritually in China, as what's happening economically or culturally. The Christian church is bursting at the seams, growing exponentially there. Some groups who study the numbers say that there are as many as 100 million Christians in China now.
As part of her course work, Anna will be an intern in China for six weeks this summer as a teacher. She'll be teaching English to adults there, middle and high school teachers. She's been training this year, teaching ESL locally near her college. Cross-Cultural Studies is her major. She's always longed to go to Asia to teach. She's so ready to go! We're proud of her enthusiasm, her love, her dedication.
I know some of you have a deep love for missions and want to know about her trip, and I'll be updating about it this summer. Also, if you want to be really involved and donate toward the cost of this trip, here's a link to ELIC, English Language Institute, China. You enter Anna's last name (Christiansen) and her teacher code, which is C630. You can give online. It's tax-deductible too. And hopefully, with all of our prayers and help, we will be launching a new ambassador for Jesus's kingdom off into the world, for a lifetime!
If you're interested in what God is doing in China, here are some links about the growth of the church there. The Chinese church needs trained leaders with access to theology and English language materials.
Asia Harvest's table of Christians in China.
The Telegraph -- Chinese Christians defend their churches
Christian Post -- more on church growth
Gospel Herald -- recent converts

Anna, we love you so much, and pray for God's blessing in your life as you share his love and your gifts with those across the globe!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Healing, Growing, Flourishing

Adam's feeling so much better than he asked me to take him to his "office" yesterday, also-known-as Lou Mac Park. He sits there when the weather is fine and meets people coming and going -- visitors or neighbors or tourists or whoever. He chats with them all, and he studies his sermons and lessons.
So I dropped him off for a couple of hours with Sandy for company.
Then this morning he decided he'd get up on crutches and mix a batch of his bread.
Don't worry; he's not putting any weight on that foot.
You know what love looks like? It looks like about 15 get-well cards, coming in the mail.
On the way back from the park, I noticed a few plastic pots by somebody's trash can, so I stopped. I need more pots for the tomato plants I'd bought. I asked the kind couple, who were working in their yard, if I could take the pots away. They were happy for me to ... and they offered me more nice pots, and then gave me two tomato plants, three cucumber plants, a massive clump of pretty mint, and a little volunteer crepe myrtle. Wow! What sweet people!
What a joy to find such kindness in strangers. We exchanged names, and now they're neighbors and friends :)
That's the mint up there, in one of the pots they gave me.
And this is a pretty pot of geraniums, given by a friend. I love the bright red.
This morning and tomorrow morning, Julia is taking her yearly standardized testing. We use a simple CAT test -- easy and quick. She doesn't need the test, and I certainly don't need it in order to know how she's doing. I teach her every day. But the state requires it, so we do it.
She's been sketching again, leaning toward realism that can seem like a photograph. I showed her this remarkable website full of art, as a little inspiration. But she'd drawn this "old geezer" already.
She insists she won't be majoring in art because she can't make a living in it, but I think it's sad that someone this talented (as is true for many people in many areas) can't feel safe studying what they love and are gifted in.
I'm sure she'll always do art. But how I'd love for her to pursue it and achieve the highest level of excellence possible for her. I'd love to see how far she could go.
We're off to Bible study tonight, and a Christian Seder supper Thursday night. Adam will be busy!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nuthin' But Blue Skies

What weather we've had this weekend! Ahhhhhhhh. That's the sound of a great winter sigh being released on a warm afternoon. We all went for a walk/roll down the street with the doggies, to the Wildlife Ramp/public water access.
Oriental hosted an annual boat show this weekend, and nautical vendors near and far came to display their wares to prospective buyers. And quite a few boats appeared in our harbors. This one, the "Toddy," was a special treat to the eyes. Lots of gorgeous woodwork.
I felt she could be drifting down the Nile with Hercule Poirot or Humphrey Bogart aboard.
Our flowers continue to greet spring and favor us all with their beauty.

Another boat on display is this slim beauty on a trailer -- again, fine woodwork.
And speaking of spring beauties, here's a photo from many years ago -- Julia and Anna -- in front of my tulips when we lived in Iowa. Julia was two years old, and Anna was about ten.
I mentioned wisteria, that elegant purple vine that attacks trees in such a disarming way. People also have wisteria shrubs in their yard, and it's very pretty.
For those unfamiliar with it, here's a close up. The clusters dangle like thin chandeliers.
Back down at the Wildlife Ramp, several weeks ago someone ran his boat into one of the three floating docks there and broke the dock in two. The authorities removed the pieces, and today I walked down and saw the new improved dock. It's at the end of this long ramp.

Atop two of the four poles are seagulls perched as if standing guard.
Guard One
Guard Two
Only a few yards away are the crumbled remnants of an older dock or pier, only its rock and rubble remaining. It's another reminder that even the brilliant things we make are destined for a timely end, and all of us fade away on this planet.
This morning at church we heard the sad report that a local pastor was killed yesterday morning in a motorcycle accident. He was about 60 years old, I think. He's in glory, and learning all there is to know about eternity, but his church and family are left in shock and grief. It is only God's providence that decided that that pastor's time of testimony here was complete, and he was ready to go, but that Adam still had work to do for the kingdom and could remain -- albeit with a damaged leg. It could so easily have been Adam that was taken, except that God said, "Not yet!" And so, it is impossible for Adam to have gone, because it wasn't time. I'm thankful for a God who rules all such things.
To end on a light note, here's Beau. Those glasses sat on his nose for about 1/2 second, but I got the pic!
Have a blessed week, everyone.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hospital Tales

When medical disaster strikes, there's no time to think about money. The helicopter zooms you to the trauma center and before you know it, you've had two surgeries and seven days in the hospital. But in the back of your mind is this niggling question: how much will this cost?

For years we had no health insurance. The kids (until they turned 19) had Medicaid, but Adam and I just trusted to God's mercy and protection and counted ourselves fortunate to be generally healthy and uninjured.

On January 1, we got insurance again, and for my readers who live in other countries, here's an American truth: if you don't have health insurance, you don't have health care. You can't get dental work, and doctors won't see you. The first thing the hospitals ask is to see your insurance card. You can pay all that stuff out of your own pocket, but ... (another unpleasant American truth) because most health insurance is attached to people's employment as a benefit, people who don't have jobs generally don't have insurance either. Thus, they don't have the cash to pay for the care. It's a mess.

The insurance we got in January is affectionately called Obamacare, or ACA. The government pays for most of our premiums, but the insurance itself comes from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, a huge insurance company. We had to enroll, by law, and we were happy to do so. I'm fully aware of several facts: 1) Some of my friends think it's criminal for the government to pay for our insurance and consider us thieves because it's taxpayers' money, 2) Many other nations have similar systems, or (horrors!) a single-payer system, and 3) The Obamacare model is the model the Republicans promoted back when the Democrats wanted a single-payer model. My take is this: I loathe the fact that people's lives and health have become balls that politicians, in their venomous competition, love to bat around. It's sad to me that people who are each others' neighbors are angry that their tax money might go to pay to preserve their neighbor's life. Obamacare provides insurance to millions of America's "working poor" -- people who work at businesses that won't or can't provide their insurance. And who are the customers of those businesses? Who are the customers who benefit from the fact that tens of thousands of businesses don't charge their customers higher prices to pay for those employees' insurance? It all boils down to the same fact: people pay for other people's insurance. You can pay in taxes, or you can pay in wares, or you can pay in high healthcare costs. But you pay.

I digress. American healthcare is complicated.

I took Adam's blood pressure medicine to the hospital and handed it to the nurse. "He needs to take one of these every day." I could have given them to Adam, but I figured the nurses needed to know what meds he was taking. She said, "I have to get this bottle verified by our hospital's pharmacy." Later she brought the meds back. "The hospital pharmacy would prefer for him to use their blood pressure meds," she said. "Is it the same as this medicine?" I asked. "Yes." "Well," I replied, "I'm sure they'd prefer him to use theirs. How much do they charge for their blood pressure medication?" And when she checked on the price ...

Their tablets were $3.00 each.

And Adam's meds cost us 30¢ each.

So I fussed and insisted, and she wrangled with the pharmacy, and at last I got my way. And I saved the American taxpayer $15 by stubbornly not allowing the medical establishment to criminally overcharge us on one item. One item. How could one possibly insist on reasonable charges for every item in a week-long hospital stay?

After Adam's discharge we drove to our local pharmacy to fill the prescriptions his surgeon had given us. Adam declined to get the percocet (pain meds), but he had to have the blood thinner. And then the pharmacist told me that Blue Cross would not pay for a penny of the blood thinner; it's a "non-formulary" drug (one they refuse to pay for) because it's fancy, non-generic, new, and $150.00 for only 14 of them. (Sigh!!)

So I'm standing in the pharmacy with my exhausted husband in the car after a 2 hour drive, wondering if I should go home without his blood thinner and risk a blood clot, or pay out $150 ourselves. If I told you how much we live on, we'd both be embarrassed, so I won't. (The church provides housing, but not a large salary, which is common for small-church pastors.) I save money any way I can. So I called the doctor's office and talked to the nurse. She said she'd get back to me.And I drove home without the meds.

When she called back, she said the doctor agreed Adam could just take a baby aspirin instead of the blood thinner. Adam is a young, healthy man, and a baby aspirin is adequate. So I drove to Dollar General and spent $2 on baby aspirin. But only because I insisted and refused to be overcharged by a pharmaceutical company for their new drug, and refused to accept the prescription of a doctor who didn't think it through.

What's wrong with our medical system? We all have our opinions, but I think perhaps the biggest problem is that healthcare is exorbitantly expensive -- ridiculously expensive, even criminally expensive. When each item a hospital provides is ten times more expensive than it is elsewhere, what mischief is produced? Is every med, every sheet, every bed pan, every procedure, every piece of equipment, every single charge, ten times overpriced? If Adam's final charge ends up being (I have no clue ...) $50,000, does that mean that it could have cost $5000, if the prices weren't inflated?

What are we paying for, when healthcare is that expensive? Is there wastage? (Of course there is.) What mechanism should regulate those prices, to keep them low? Is there a competitive mechanism in place? A government regulation? A watch-dog group? Certainly the patients and their families are in no condition to complain. Most will not fight against the overpriced medicine and insist on using their own. What if we all dragged our own sheets, wheelchairs, gowns, and ace bandages there? Can you imagine the chaos?

All I'm saying is this: if the care weren't so expensive, the insurance wouldn't be so expensive, and many people would be able to pay for their own insurance or care. Perhaps if it weren't so expensive, people wouldn't even need insurance! Perhaps they could feasibly pay for the care out-of-pocket, without help from anyone. The insurance companies would be out of business, and that would crimp their style. I do believe that both the healthcare industry and the insurance industry have great incentive in keeping costs as high as possible. As long as they do, they get lots of $$$, and the American population pays, one way or the other -- because the payment mechanism is rerouted so many times.

Meanwhile, the working poor, families with children, living on under $25K/year, unable to find a job that would provide healthcare no matter what they did, are viewed as the "bad guys." Everybody hates the moochers, the ones who live on the taxpayers' hand-out, who accept the government's help. They get help, but it's very grudging. People actually tell them, "You should pay for your own insurance!" As if a family that doesn't even make $2K a month can afford premiums that cost $2K a month. They couldn't afford $500/month. They couldn't afford anything. And no, Medicaid does not cover parents in that situation.

And so a system that overcharges at every turn and impoverishes the nation, then produces a large group of people who can't afford the services and are vilified for their poverty.

I don't have a solution, but I know there are politicians paid hefty salaries to come up with one, and they haven't. Obamacare is far from an ideal model, but the Republicans didn't care to improve such a broken system when they had the chance; they had other items on their agenda more important to them. This post is no defense of either party. But my eyes were opened a bit more in the past week to some of the weaknesses and abuses of our healthcare system, and it was not pretty to see.

(If you care to leave a comment, please do not leave a political rant. If you have something useful to say about healthcare, that's fine.)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Little Better Every Day

Recovery from severe injury is a slow process. Here's a great picture of Adam today, doing computer work, with a doggie on his lap. He looks almost normal.
But just being up for an hour, sitting in the wheelchair, is enough to wear him totally out. He is exhausted and has to go lie down in bed. Visiting, talking, or doing anything at all adds to the weariness. But he loves people to drop by, because he's so bored! Ah well. I have to act as his stern nurse and remind him he must rest.
I went on two bike rides today. The exercise and fresh air are a tonic, and there's time while Adam is sleeping, which he does a lot. At this point we have so many things in bloom that I can't name them all. Daffodils are almost spent; their season was long this year, thanks to the cool temps. Creamy dogwoods are beginning, and bright azaleas are bursting, and elegant purple wisteria is dangling in the trees.

I love the shape of dogwood blossoms.
The biggest blessing by far today came in the form of four men and some wood. Shane is a member of our church, and a contractor, and he and his gang came to our house and built a ramp for Adam. They were blazing fast -- amazing! I love to watch people do the thing that they are truly skilled and gifted at.
It's beautiful and will be a lifeline for Adam for months to come. As I said, his recovery will be long -- 3-6 weeks of no bending his knee at all, to allow the tendon to heal completely. Then, no weight on the leg at all until early/mid-July. That's a long time to be using a walker/wheelchair/crutches.
He's so ready to be very active again ... in his mind. But his body is so not up to it yet. Bless him. I'm hoping night after night of good rest will perk him back up. His body is working in overdrive, repairing all the stuff in that leg that was broken in an instant -- rerouting blood supply, building new bone, repairing nerves and capillaries and all manner of things ... can you tell I don't know what I'm talking about? I'm glad God and the doctors know. I'm thankful for that!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It's a Long Way Back Home

Happily, Adam came home today. After seven days in the hospital for him, and 21 hours of driving for me, we're thankful to be tucked back in our little house. 21 hours of driving could have gotten me to Colorado, which is a slightly disturbing thought. Anyway, I learned all the interesting sights along Hwy. 17 and 43, a nice rural drive off the beaten interstate path. I thought I'd share a few of them with you -- some of the oddities you'll never see if you stick to the interstates in your travels:
Must be Yogi Bear's cousin, Sarah
Funny name for a convenience store -- sounds vaguely Amish, except they sell cigs and beer!
Many little churches line the back roads here. This one seemed sweet.
Vanceboro, a little town on Hwy. 17, has pick-your-own strawberry farms nearby, and a festival.
You can enjoy an ice cream cafe here in an old building.
Or satisfy your traveling hunger at Vera's Diner.
Many fields are Kelly Green with spring.
This town must have my all-time favorite name -- "Shelmerdine."  Isn't that fun?
I'm often tempted to do whole posts of memorable church signs. This one caught my eye all week.
Dr. Who fans -- what does this old structure look like?
I bet all the pigs are excited when they're brought here, right?
Something tells me the palace ain't what they think it is.
Some fields aren't green; they're stripped and ugly.
Anyway, this morning Adam jumped through all the hoops to get himself discharged. This included getting dressed -- yay! Clothes feel good after a week in the hospital.
Then the nurse came in to change the dressings on the wound, and to show me how to do it at home. She removed the knee immobilizer (which Adam will be wearing for weeks still), and she began cutting through the ace bandages and the thick dressing.
I'll tell you now -- I'll post a photo of Adam's stitched up knee at the bottom of this post, but I'm warning you ahead of time that it's not a little wound, and it's not really stitches; it's staples. So if you don't like looking at a Frankenstein-like piece of flesh, DON'T LOOK. Okay? Don't say I didn't warn you. But first ... here's the sicky after finally getting home, finally getting up the stairs, finally getting comfortable after eating dinner. He's exhausted. (So am I.)
He snoozed for a bit under my stripey blanket. So sweet.


Okay ...

Now ...

Here's the photo ...

You may not want to see ...

Click away now before it's too late!

Are you really sure?

Three ...

Two ...

One ...

I told you so.