Some milestones are set out in the future with bright lights and noisy bells. I remember way back (now!) in 1976 when we all celebrated the bicentennial of the United States. It seemed like the build up to the celebration had been in place for years, with no expense spared to create the remembrance of such a spectacular moment in our history.
Other milestones, of course, are a bit less showy. I recall in 1981, when I graduated from seminary, and received my first church appointment in the Dakotas – North Dakota, to be exact, only about 5-7 miles from where we now live, in West Fargo. I received a salary – a whopping $13,500/year, a small housing allowance for Cheri and me to rent an apartment – and pension and health insurance. It’s amazing to think that 40 years ago, our annual conference covered the entire cost of our health insurance. Of course, even in the 1980s, the cost of having a baby was about $500 from start to finish, so somehow, the cost of insurance was pretty doable for the organization. It was called HMEP, or Health and Medical Expense Program, and served us very well.
Now granted, the particulars of the health care for pastors in our conference have changed dramatically in four decades. Back then, there was no deductible and the entire cost per family was only in the hundreds. Today, there are a variety of levels of care you can opt for, and deductibles run about $2000-$4000 per person per year. What’s most fascinating, however, is that after 40 years, I have still maintained the same health care system. I never switched from job to job – even when we spent some time in Nashville with the general agency, the health costs were still managed by the folks in Evanston, Illinois at our general church health and pension headquarters. I’m not sure what percentage of folks in America could make the same claim of having the same insurance for 4 decades.
That was 1981. Fast forward to today, in 2021, and I’m realizing a different milestone racing toward me/us. In seven months – January of next year – I’ll make a major shift in health care. Yes indeed – I will become one of those Medicare recipients. Now, I’m not sure what is more stunning to realize, that the government program for old people’s health will become my program – something I never dreamed of, or that, even more, in January of 2022, I will be 65 years old. When did that happen? I mean, I have been 37 for many years now, and felt like things were basically just frozen in time. Now all of a sudden, as I look in the mirror, or stand up after sitting too long, and feel the creaks and moans of far older muscles and bones, it’s all coming toward me like a runaway train. You see, this milestone is received a bit differently than the bicentennial! No, I’m not heading toward it kicking and screaming to turn back time, but it has made me a bit… thoughtful, I guess.
So, being thoughtful, I thought I would do a bit of study about the whats and hows of the Medicare program. After looking it over briefly, I can confidently report that the program is aligned perfectly with most every other program the federal government has generated. Complicated? Check – I mean why would you NOT have a basic Medicare, and then a Medicare Part B, which is not covered by the basic program, and then there is a Part C, and a Part D, if you want your prescriptions, and all of those of course have their own costs – what they like to call “personal investment” – and limitations and opportunities for you to really screw things up if you are too casual about it. For them to call it the “Medicare maze” tells you something right off the bat.
So, in my lifelong goal not to screw things up, I made my first real investment in my post-64 years medical future. I did what any reasonable, thinking adult would do: I bought “Medicare for Dummies” – a 421 page tome that promises to explain to me all the ins and outs of this mystical program, with the promise of helping me “save money by avoiding costly mistakes.” I truly do not care for that previous statement, because it implies that costly mistakes are just around the corner, and with a little bit of the wrong wind blowing, it’s possible to be up that particular creek without a paddle.
So, that’s my assignment for this week. Cheri asked if I needed a yellow highlighter to mark the important parts. I suggested I probably just needed a five-gallon bucket of yellow highlighter and a spray nozzle. Not feeling very confident right now, to tell the truth. I mean, when you need a 400+ page book to “navigate” your way – and there aren’t many fun full-page cartoons, either – I think you can be confident in the complicated stuff ahead.
Now, not to boast, but I don’t think I truly am a dummy. I mean, I have done my own taxes for my entire life, and I have created dozens of programs and directions for churches and groups and other systems. I rewrote an entire portion of our general church’s Book of Discipline, in order to make it less complicated and usable. But, like the scene in Star Wars where Luke asks Yoda what’s in the dark and forbidding cave, Yoda replies, “Mmm – much danger there…” So that’s why I have given myself seven months to “navigate” and get things in order before jumping in on New Year’s Day 2022. I’ll let you know how it goes…
I can’t name a single effort or experience in life that would include the response, “I just wish I hadn’t prepared so well for this…” So, whatever it is that you are up against today, or in your life in the coming weeks or months, “Don’t do something – just stand there!” That is, grant yourself the gift of being intentional, and make sure your ducks are in a row, and all those other phrases that help us understand that preparation is never an enemy. It can probably be a pain sometimes, but without it, once again, be careful which creek you might find yourself up in. Blessings on you today – and if you have any Medicare pointers, I’m happy to listen…
Word for the day: anfractuous. Pronounced an-FRAK-chew-us. This is truly a word that is what it sounds like. From a common Latin verb, frangere, which mean “to break,” – we get “fracture” and “fragment” and even “frail” from it. However, when you add the “an” to the front of it, in Latin anfractus, you get the word that means “coil, or bend.” When something is anfractuous, like a mountain road, you end up turning and breaking and watching for cars drifting into your lane, because it’s a winding road. In the same way, some directions and government programs are also anfractuous, because they are full of windings and turnings – tortuous, if you will.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.