Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So what exactly is the damn Plan?

I have been trying to subscribe to this philosophy that "everything happens for a reason" and that "God has a Plan." You've seen it in my posts and though you may think that I have this amazing faith that causes me to put everything in the hands of God because I know He knows what He's going to do with it, that's not the case.

Like now. I'm really struggling with this whole "God has a Plan" thing. Sometimes I think that's what you say when you don't know what else to say. You can't figure out why something like this would happen. There's no rhyme or reason - it just seems grossly unfair. So you just shrug your shoulders and chalk it up to The Plan.

Here's a couple of examples. I have several friends right now battling illnesses. For one of them, it seems SO unfair. She already has so much going on in her life, and is one of the least-deserving (not that anyone deserves it) people I know to be afflicted with cancer. She's trudging through it like a warrior, though, with a full army backing her up. She flaunts her bald head instead of hides it, throws a "Pink" party instead of crawling under the covers, and laughs her infectious southern laugh that I'm sure they're already familiar with in the chemo room. Though her life is probably changed forever, God has apparently chosen her to be a poster mom for breast cancer, and I can't think of a better one.

In that same category is a friend of mine who is a seven-year cancer survivor. I didn't know her during her ordeal, but suffice it to say that the first time I met her she blew me away with her enthusiasm for life, her "devil-may-care" attitude and her genuine excitement for the world around her. She may have always been like that, but I have a feeling that she made a bet with God that if he got her through cancer she would make it worth His while - and she has. Now that's a Plan I can handle.

Then there's the Plans I struggle with. My mom has lived a healthy lifestyle for the better part of her life. She's in her 70's (God forbid I get her age wrong so I'm just going to be general about it) but looks 20 years younger to me. She and my dad takes long walks daily and go to the gym to lift weights and exercise. They've both always been active in some form, eat healthy, and rarely gets sick. So WHY out of the blue did she have a cancerous kidney the size of a small football removed last April? And why are they biopsying "suspicious spots" on her abdomen today? What's in store for her? What's that Plan, God? What's the point in living a healthy, active lifestyle when you're just going to pull this in the end? I just don't get it.

And what about my sister-in-law, trying to make my brother's 40th birthday special by surprising him with Bears tickets? What was your Plan when she had a stroke in the 3rd quarter and had to be rushed to a Chicago hospital? Thankfully, she's home now, which in itself is a small miracle. So are you trying to tell her something? If so, what? Because they have a really good marriage and I'm thinking she's a little freaked out, as is my brother. You want to clue us in?

And I wonder sometimes - is saying "everything happens for a reason" just some lame way of making yourself feel better? For instance, right now there's a little girl named Maddy lying in a hospital room in Chicago, just diagnosed with leukemia. Maybe she will grow up to be an advocate for leukemia research. Maybe there is someone in that hospital who needs to cross paths with her parents. Maybe her angelic presence is going to change the life of someone she meets. I don't know - but telling her parents that "it's happening for a reason" is not going to go over real well right now.

Sometimes we are faced with hard decisions, like I was recently. What got me through it was both "everything happens for a reason" and "God has a Plan". Now I feel as if my faith is faltering. I feel as if I may have used this philosophy as a crutch, telling myself that God subconsciously told me to make that decision because it's part of this special path He has me on, as opposed to the fact that I really just single-handedly jacked up my whole life. I wonder how many people are faced with even more life-changing decisions than mine, and if they ever question if God is really at the wheel.

I hate that I question this; I really do. I don't mean to be a Doubting Thomas, but there are times when I just can't see the proverbial forest for the trees here. I know that every bad thing that happens to someone and the subsequent life-changing result isn't always worthy of a teary, feel-good YouTube video - some are more subtle and not as immediate. Maybe just too many "bad" things are happening around me all at once and I'm miserably failing whatever test God is administering.

I do still believe God has a Plan, and when I realize it I'll probably feel really stupid - like when someone gives me one of those logical brain teasing questions where the answer is really obvious but doesn't manifest itself as such.

Let's hope it's just that simple in the end.

Friday, November 11, 2011

People play-by-plays... in the drive-thru

So I'm sitting in line at the Avanti's pickup window on a chilly Friday night, waiting to pick up dinner for my kids, who opted to stay home and play video games rather than go out to a restaurant with their mom.

As I sit in my car, I watch the people in front of me getting their gondolas and raviolis. I look over to the parking lot and see couples and families walking in and out of the restaurant and carry-out. And I do what I always do to pass the time - I make up their stories.

The older couple just leaving got there just in time for the early-bird special. They'll go home, watch a little TV, then fall asleep during the news.

The man walking out carrying the little boy told his wife he'd go start the car since junior was getting antsy. She brings up the rear holding the hand of a squirmy princess dressed all in pink while lugging a baby carrier. An exhausting attempt at "family night" after a long work week and probably a double-long stay-at-home-mom week.

Two women, a man and a teenager enter the carry-out. The man and woman are married; the teenager is their son. The other woman is the sister, who is going through a divorce. "Come to dinner with us - we'll just get carry-out then go home and talk over a glass of wine."

I do this in restaurants, too. Sometimes my silence may be looked on by my companion as boredom. Not so. I'm merely surveying the room and getting the "stories" of all the other patrons. The young woman playing with her hair across from the guy fumbling with his fork? First date. The couple eating in silence while staring blankly into space? Their kids are teenagers and off doing their own thing tonight. They've been parenting for so long they don't even know each other anymore. And the older woman who automatically picks the onions off her husband's salad while he systematically passes her the Parmesan cheese? Soulmates.

I'm always wondering what's going on in the lives of these people. It's easy to see a family laughing and joking and be envious that they're just the "perfect family". I sometimes can't look away from the couple who stare adoringly at each other and can't go more than a couple of minutes without touching. "They must just have the best relationship ever," I think. The mom and daughter who I can hear in the dressing room comparing new outfits. "How great that they're friends."

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one that does this, and if I'm not, then what do people think is my story when they see me? There could be a different chapter every day. Sometimes, they'll see a kooky mom chasing her kids through the Shoppes at Grand Prairie or trying to shoot basketballs at Dick's Sporting Goods even though they put that plexiglass shield over the basket. Sometimes they'll see an exasperated mom making one boy walk five paces ahead of the cart while the other begrudgingly holds her hand because they couldn't stop wresting and knocked over a display of cereal. Tonight, they saw a lonely single mom who didn't want to be at home tonight, and wished her family was whole.

I try to keep things in perspective when I'm people watching, and not get too caught up in my story of them, knowing full well there's more to it than meets the eye. But sometimes, it's hard to picture the reality that everyone goes through when they seem so "normal" on the outside. It matters not, I guess. I like to watch people, and I like to make up stories. So stick me in a drive-thru anytime - you just may not want to cross my line of sight lest your story be written... by me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My health insurance company is bracing for the worst

I just got a letter from my insurance company telling me that as of January 1, my premium will go up almost $100 a month. Why? Because I turned 45.

This same thing happened five years ago, when I turned 40. It was a different insurance company, but as soon as I hit the big 4-0, apparently the chances of me suddenly coming down with some middle-age malady skyrockets, so my premium follows suit.

I guess if I had health issues I'd understand. But I don't. In fact, I probably take better care of myself now than I did in my 20s and 30s. Not to jinx myself, but I've never broken a bone. I've never had major surgery. I've never had any sort of life-threatening illness. I've never been hospitalized other than giving birth and an unfortunate incident involving a slightly-septic knee injury (and a bottle of rum).

Which is why, at age 45, I balk at the prospect of spending hundreds of dollars a month on this "hit by a bus" medical insurance, which is basically a high deductible plan that sticks me with the first $5,000 of any catastrophic medical malady that might occur, like getting hit by a bus.

Thankfully, this insurance DOES cover wellness checks. Honestly, I think any insurance that doesn't is worthless. If I'm paying hundreds a month to you people, at least thrown in a yearly medical exam, ob/gyn visit and mammogram just to make sure things are ticking away properly. I understand my drop in the bucket is going toward all the other people's claims, but cut me that small break, please. You're killing me.

And dental? Don't get me started. I haven't had dental insurance in years. So what do I do? I don't go to the dentist. Why? Because it's money out of my pocket. And how is that working out for me? It means I have an emergency appointment to look at a tooth that's been giving me so much pain I can't even eat on that side. I have a feeling this is going to cost me.

Same with vision. I know vision insurance is probably a thing of the past, but that's what's going south faster than my health. Do I remember to have my yearly eye exam? No. I'm just glad they can get me in quickly when I realize I can no longer read the signs on the highway.

I wish medical insurance premiums had discounts like car insurances do. I mean, I know you'll get a better rate if you don't smoke or drink or skydive, but hey, give me a discount for exercising five days a week. Or by eating the recommended daily allowance of fruit and vegetables a day. Or by not drinking soda. Something.

When I do my monthly budget, I try to see what line items I can decrease, like my cable, my phone or my grocery bill. Insurance never seems to be a negotiable. It's kind of like property taxes - you begrudgingly fork over the money but rarely seem to see the payout.

I know I'm lucky - there are people out there with major medical conditions that they either can't pay even after insurance or worse yet, are denied insurance coverage all together. I can't imagine having to decide between medications or groceries. So in comparison to them, I'm living the high life with my couple hundred dollar a month premium and few doctor bills.

My point is, I wish there was a better way. A more affordable way. A fairer way. Maybe we healthy people get lower premiums if we agree to help out a sick person in financial straits. Maybe we restructure the whole healthcare system to reflect the fact that everyone's medical plate is different. Maybe we mandate that doctors allow certain percentage discounts to patients who truly need them.

I don't know. I don't claim to be an expert in the health insurance field. But apparently after 45, I'm going to have enough claims that the insurance industry feels I should pay into now, just in case.

Let's hear it for health.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Halfway there

So, I turned 45 the other day. That’s middle age, right? Once you are over the hill you just pick up speed, right?

Hey, I have no qualms about getting older. Plus I really don't want to live past 90. As I’ve said before, my mom once told me her 40’s were one of the best decades of her life and I thought she was crazy. But I can say that so far, it has been the best decade for me.

I don’t mean the best in terms of “all good things have happened”. Certainly not. But definitely the best as far as how much I’ve grown (middle age spread aside), what I’ve learned and what I realize I have left to learn.

It’s hard to describe, really, so maybe I’ll just list some things that I’ve come to realize now that I’m officially halfway through my 40’s. Such as:

1. I’ve never been an optimist, but I’ve gradually embraced this whole concept by renaming it as “Plan B”, as in “always have one.”

2. The high road may be harder, but like exercise, in the end it feels soooo good.

3. Sometimes it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. This is true in work, with kids, family and friends. As they say in the restaurant business, “It’s all in the presentation.”

4. One of the best things to do when you are knee deep in your own troubles is to reach out to someone with their own. In the end, you’ll both feel blessed.

5. Although technology is grand, make sure your kids know how to write a thank-you note, make a phone call or spell without using abbreviations. And don’t feel bad about taking their electronic devices during dinner or when they go to bed.

6. Those that check out your groceries, take your money at the drive-thru and wait on you in restaurants are people, too. Treat them well.

7. Even if you rarely get angry, what you say when you are can have devastating repercussions. You don’t always have to vocalize what’s in your head.

8. I have less than 48 months before my child is in college.

9. People have capacities and they’re all different. Don’t expect someone to “meet you in the middle” – it may not be their middle.

10. No matter how crappy your day is, there’s always something to be thankful for.

11. Writing IS my thing.

12. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch, but nothing beats a phone call or a face-to-face visit.

13. You can punish your kids, but never withhold love and affection. They're usually "over it" waaaaay before you are anyway.

14. Cherish your parents because they truly love you more than anyone else in the entire world, no matter how bad of a teenager you were.

15. Sometimes, the right decision is the hardest decision you will ever have to make.

16. Strong may be the new skinny, but I still have to eat half as much and exercise twice as long to ward off the pitfalls of the middle-aged metabolism shutdown.

17. You’re not always right. But you’re not always wrong, either. The trick is to recognize when each of those occur.

18. Try to do something that challenges either your mind or your body every day. Every once in awhile, do something that scares you.

19. Love isn’t complicated; however, sometimes the logistics are.

20. God has a Plan. God has a Plan. God has a Plan.