Talk to Me: God on the Ground

My first day back at work already sucked. Just getting out of my car hurt. Ascending the flight of stairs to my office, I had to get both feet on a step and take a breath before attempting the next. My briefcase felt like it contained a bowling ball instead of a laptop. Though I’d spent five weeks at home recovering from bi-level lumbar spinal fusion, I suddenly wanted another month off. I had been proud of how quickly I’d reduced my Vicodin consumption; now, I might have to pop one just to make it up the stairs.


None of this, however, discouraged me as much as the task awaiting the instant I parked my convalescent fanny at my desk. I had to call a health insurance company.


Let’s see if I can give you the back story without breaking into tears or profanity or both. I’m a psychologist in private practice. It’s just me—no office staff, no partners, not even a goldfish. This is the primary reason I don’t bill insurance. Prying money from insurance companies is like wrenching red meat from the jaws of a pit bull. You waste entire hours filing claims, then more hours on hold when you call to ask why they denied the claims. If the insurance company agrees to pay, you can expect a check sometime next leap year.


Against my better judgment, I joined an insurance panel because a colleague said they paid well and on time. When they sent me a referral, I decided to take a chance and bill them directly. Big mistake. An avalanche of obfuscating minutia ensued as I begged for payment that never came. After a year, I stopped groveling and filed the experience under Life Lessons Resulting from Foolish Optimism.


My first day out of the hospital, I checked my voicemail at work. I listened with clenched teeth to three angry messages from a representative from the insurance company. She made menacing references to unapproved sessions and unfiled forms, though I’d faxed them enough to paper to turn Oregon brown. My outgoing message made it clear that I was on extended medical leave, but the woman was outraged that I hadn’t returned her call. “We must resolve this matter immediately,” she said. This, after a year of trying my patience. Though I’d been rendering my services for free, it felt like I was in trouble.



When I finally made it up to the stairs and into my office, I collapsed onto the couch, taking quick, shallow breaths. I looked at my desk and saw the blinking red beacon of despair on my answering machine. Putting all my weight on my arms, I heaved myself up and into the fray. Might as well get it over with.


I picked up the phone and started to dial.


Oh, Lord …” I sighed.


Wait a minute, I thought. The Lord. What about praying first?


My cynicism whacked my spiritual naiveté on the knuckles with an aluminum ruler.


You’re not supposed to pray for stuff like this. It’s self-serving and silly. Do you want to be like on of those people who pray for parking spots at the mall?


Had I not been so desperate for a break, cynicism might have won.


Shut up, asshole, I snapped. I know it’s a long shot, but it can’t hurt to ask. If nothing else, I’m talking to God. I need to do that more, even if the reason is lame.


I said a quick prayer, apologizing in advance for the triviality of my request. Then I dialed. The agent picked up on the first ring. My stomach lurched forward. I had a spunky soliloquy ready for voicemail, but I wasn’t ready for live performance.


I told her who I was and gave her the name of the client.


Can you hold for a moment?” she said.


No doubt she was asking her superiors if she should put me on the rack or go straight to the guillotine. I reached into my bag and pulled out a bottle of Vicodin.


Two minutes later, the agent returned. “We’ve closed this file,” she said. “We mailed the check for the full outstanding balance yesterday. It looks like we overpaid by mistake. You can just credit the coverage to the client’s account. Sorry for all the confusion.”


In slow motion, I put the bottle of pills back in my bag, unopened.


Hello?” the agent said.


Um, thanks a lot.”


Thanks for your patience.”




When people offer to sell their souls to Satan in return for resolution of an insurance claim, he says, “Um, yeah … you can go ahead and keep your soul.”


This was a miracle of God.


I looked toward the sky and said, “Wow. Thanks a lot!”         


Then the reply came. Not fully formed words, just an intense feeling that was familiar in situations like these.


You’re welcome. Glad I got your attention. Now, how about talking to me more, and not just when you need a favor? 


I’m sorry.”


You’re forgiven. And stop making fun of people who pray for parking places. At least they’re talking to me. It doesn’t always have to be about Africa or repentance or even praise, though that’s always a good idea. Just think of me more often, because I think of you all the time.


A shiver went down my spine, but it was a good one for a change. I smiled and got to work. I accomplished more than I did on most days before my surgery. I typed, scribbled, and returned calls. I vanquished my whole to-do list, talking to God, all the while.



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