Belated Holidays


The Christian calendar’s two key celebrations came late this year. For me, at least. It all began in November.

During an income-free season for my husband and I, a young ardent doctor listened to my recurrent cough, pointed out that I’ve “had a few birthdays,” and passed me up the chain to a cardiologist. The cardiologist detected a heart murmur and ordered an echo-cardiogram. In the meantime, the cough medicine the first doctor prescribed almost as an afterthought had cured my cough. Nevertheless, I spent Christmas Day wondering what if…

Seven a.m. on Boxing Day found me, despite decades of responsible eating and regular exercise, outfitted in a tent-sized gown and lying on an examination table at the Heart Hospital. The tech–a lovely woman with a gentle, capable demeanor–maneuvered a probe around my chest. While working to the music of my heart’s pumping, she posed questions. I responded, “yes,” when asked if I was active. “I thought so,” she said. “You have a beautiful heart. It looks like the heart of a teenager.” Aw shucks. Also, in addition to being massively relieved, I’m giving myself permission to be extra moody.

My husband and I sailed home to tell our daughters, both home on vacation from grad school, that I’d been given the all clear. We had an all-out Christmas celebration on Dec.26.

Fast forward to spring, with my husband and I still seeking employment in hopes of supporting our pay-free nonprofit work (think St. Paul’s tent making). Enter another health scare.

A bit of pertinent history: all four of my grandparents died from digestive-system cancers. Their dying was ugly and made a lasting impression on me as a child. I’d adopted a healthy lifestyle as a result.

When I hit sixty, my primary physician, peering at my family history, basically asked if I’d assent to a colonoscopy or simply be irresponsible. Girding my metaphorical loins, I had the test, which revealed four polyps. The surgeon removed them and scheduled a retest three years hence.

The date of reckoning arrived, but with our current insurance challenges, I’d decided to delay that directive. In March, I developed intestinal issues which, to be delicate, were anything but (delicate, that is). It was pretty scary. I first tried to ignore the symptoms, then tried home remedies recommended by that font of global wisdom: the Internet. The symptoms worsened.

I contacted my primary physician, who set me up with a surgeon. A colonoscopy was calendared: for two days after Easter. Good times. I skipped the Easter meal with friends, uncomfortable with the attention my restrictive pre-op diet would prompt.

And here’s the source of my excessive resistance: I am an anesthesia lightweight. The first colonoscopy left me with no memory of the doctor’s remarks, of getting dressed, or the ride home. I had to rely on my husband’s second-hand reporting of the diagnosis. And while he’s a great guy, reading body language and verbal tones are not his strong suit. And just let me say, I tried to tell the medical team. Several times. In fact,I told everyone who attended me. If the guy who trimmed the hospital lawn had given me a chance, I’d have told him. It didn’t help. I was loopy for hours. Now I had to go through all that again, wonder if those polyps had had babies, and, worst of all, wonder if I’d regain consciousness.

With our finances in dire straits, our daughters trying to complete their graduate degrees and find employment to start paying off students loans, and our nonprofit in limbo, my relocation to Twilight Town would traumatize all the people I love. I was quaking in my boots the day before, but I was doing the prep directed. That’s when, late that afternoon, the surgeon’s business office called to say our insurance refused to pay any portion of the procedure.

What happened when I hung up the phone was not pretty. There was screaming. And tears. Things might have been thrown.

My husband insisted I have the procedure anyway: do it for our family. We’d pay out of our savings. I was not happy. In spades. My prayer life went into hyperdrive.

On the day of reckoning, David and I arrived at the surgery center, signed in, and paid (ouch). I was called in, weighed, questioned, and outfitted in a stylish gown and matching bouffant cap. And let’s not forget the flattering camel-tan footies. IV in. And…wait.

Finally, delivered of my wedding ring and eyeglasses, I was rolled into surgery. David and I had told everyone on the medical team about my anesthesia sensitivities. They promised to be kind. I’d heard that one before.

But I’d done what I could. I had to trust the surgical team. And God. Nevertheless, in the operating room, I made a Herculean effort to hang on, at least a bit, to consciousness. For about five seconds. Next awareness: a nurse in the recovery room. My first words: “What did they find?”

“You’re clear this time.”

I heard her words with my own ears. I shivered in reaction to the anesthesia, but I was awake–and lucid. David texted our daughters, now back at their respective schools, with the news, and we had a family cyber-celebration.

This life of mine–it’s been one of hard knocks, even before this recent season of surprises. I’d begun to wonder what I could trust God to do: to wonder what faith looks like with the experiences I’ve had. I still don’t know how we’ll find paying jobs or what will happen to the nonprofit that is my heart.

Today I wonder without the weight of dread on my shoulders. I’ve been cleansed, made new. I no longer own the faith I had before entering the valley of the shadow. This new faith is somehow both deeper and lighter.

I hope I celebrate next Christmas and Easter on their calendar dates. And on the far side of this income-free season. But I can’t be sorry for this year’s belated celebrations.

I share this snippet of personal history in hopes that if you’re cooling your heels in God’s waiting room, you’ll prescribe for yourself a healthy dose of grace. Rant you need to; throw a tantrum. In short, just hang on; it doesn’t have to be pretty.

And remember: belated simply means at the needful time.