"When people talk to God, it is called prayer. When God talks to people, they call it schizophrenia." -- Dr. Jim Roach in his upcoming book, God's House Calls
"Just like a prayer. Your voice can take me there" -- Madonna
Until recently, my attitude toward prayer had been guided by President Harry S. Truman who said that "people who pray the loudest are the ones you lock your hen house from." I've always been intensely suspicious of anyone who seems too overt in their embrace of prayer, especially if the conversation deviates to matters concerning my checkbook or wallet.
Praying out loud was something I never did. Until Facebook came along.
I've been an active Facebook member since the time it was opened up to non-college students, and I have thousands of people in my network. I've connected with friends from kindergarten to people I have never met at all. It's one of my most important communication tools.
People post good and bad news on Facebook. I do too. On my bad days, people frequently respond, "I'm praying for you." After a while, I started to do the same. What else can you say to someone who posts that they just came back from cancer treatment or had one of their parents die? Clicking on the "like" sign is not really appropriate and the long awaited "dislike" button would be worse. Saying something like, "I'm sorry" seems helpless and unconcerned, but praying for someone is a proactive way to be in their corner.
All of this brings me to the gastric sleeve weight loss surgery that I had on December 1.
I've only really had two taboo subjects in life: my weight and prayer. Prayer has been guided by my Harry Truman prism and my weight has been guided by the fact that I've been in denial about it.
Laura Babbage, co-author of Life Lessons from Cancer and a hospital chaplain, recently put me onto the book A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Lewis connects because he is completely honest about his emotions after the death of his wife. My writing influences have often been songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. They put their lives out there for the public to see.
Hiding anything goes against who I am. I've had times when my faith in many things has been challenged, but my faith in the first amendment has been rock solid my entire life. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, along with freedom of religion and expression, are part of who I am.
I am thrilled to live in a time when people all over the world have the ability to say what is on their minds via social media. Like at any point in history, there can be consequences, including death, for speaking out, but the ability to actually get "on the record" and influence others is only going to improve over time. Technology is a tool to defeat repression and totalitarianism. In this era of reasonably free expression, not being open about my weight and not openly praying contradicted who I am.
I never knew the two topics would tie together.
I reached a point this summer where I weighed 377 pounds. It might have actually been higher, but I rarely went near the scale. I'm 55, but started having ailments like someone 30 years older. Not only was I morbidly obese, it would have taken a 20 percent drop in my weight before I fell out of that category. I had been fortunate; I just turned diabetic, but had never had a stroke, heart attack, went blind or had them start chopping body parts off. All that comes with morbid obesity. Then you die.
I knew I was a ticking time bomb. A life in the insurance and structured settlement business means I can digest morality tables with the best of them, and I knew I would be lucky to make it to age 64. I could also see it would be a lousy last nine years. I never wanted to be a person who road around the grocery store on a motorized cart and especially not 20 years before my life expectancy. All of the sudden, the cart seemed part of my future.
I had an extreme fear of surgery, but it was time to make a bold move. I was in a bad position from an insurance standpoint. In the state of Kentucky, it is impossible for a small business owner like me to purchase health care coverage that would cover weight loss surgery. People on Medicaid and Medicare can get the surgery, and many people at large corporations have plans that cover them. As does everyone in about 27 other states. I happened to live in one of the states, almost all in the Deep South, that does not make their insurance carrier offer weight loss surgery.
I didn't mind paying for the surgery out of pocket, which is what I ultimately did. What really bothered me is that my Anthem plan, just like every other small business or individual plan in Kentucky, did not offer coverage for COMPLICATIONS from surgery. If I had a heart attack during surgery and ran up a million dollar bill, my family and I were out of luck.
Since I knew I was dying (they don't call it "morbid obesity" for nothing), I was willing to roll the dice and hope the surgery would go well (which it did) and pay any medical bills if it went wrong. I went to a Lexington hospital and they threw me out of the introductory meeting when they saw my insurance card. Not only was it embarrassing, it also made me think that every other hospital would do the same. I was wrong.
There is that point where God takes you to the right spot, even if you don't know that is where you are going. Mine happened in August.
I read that Georgetown Community Hospital, just outside of Lexington, was a Bariatric Center of Excellence and that it was one of the hospitals where Dr. Derek Weiss, who has a tremendous reputation, did surgery.
It occurred to me that Dr. Jim Roach might have a connection at Georgetown. Dr. Jim is internationally famous in the world of integrated medicine and has lived his entire life in Midway, a few miles from Georgetown.
He created a fascinating Center for Integrative Medicine that is intensely popular. Dr. Phil Hoffman (father of Babydaddy of the Scissor Sisters) has been my longtime "primary physician," but for a couple of years, I went to Dr. Jim in addition to Phil. The last time I had seen Jim had been at my wedding a few years ago. Dr. Jim stays constantly booked far in advance, and I gave my last appointment to a friend with stage four cancer (Jim does a wonderful job for people with cancer) and never myself got back on the list.
Dr. Jim was glad to hear from me and got me to a contact at the Georgetown Hospital. When I got to Georgetown, it turns out that Dr. Weiss offers a specialty insurance program called Blis that pays for complications if something goes wrong during surgery. I purchased the Blis and it allowed me to have the weight loss surgery on December 1.
Dr. Jim mentioned he was writing a book. I own RRP International Publishing and Digital Media, and we have a detailed process for vetting every potential book, including those that I write. For the only time in our history, I cut short the process and asked Dr. Jim if he had a publisher. He said he was looking for one. I told him he had just found one.
I guess I should have asked what he was writing about, but I assumed it would be Integrated Medicine. Dr. Jim has a huge following and is well-educated, so I assumed anything he wrote would sell well.
When I got around to asking, it turns out that his topic was a spiritual one. His book, God's House Calls, which will be released in March, is about hundreds of his patients who have received messages from God in some form. He hopes the book will help remove the stigma surrounding these spiritual and supernatural experiences that so many are afraid to speak on and validate.
It's working its way through the final editing process, but Jim is an excellent writer and it is a fascinating and touching book. I shared with Dr. Jim my own story. I'll give all the details in a future article, but I had two "house calls from God" in my own life. One was a phone call from my father at a moment when he was actually dead, but was brought back to life for a few more hours. I got to see him in his last hour because of that phone call. Another was on the day when my niece Lyndsay Francis was born. My former wife witnessed the second incident, but I've never told many people about either. The line that Dr. Jim uses, "If you talk to God, it is called prayer; if God talks to you, it is called schizophrenia," rang way too true for me. They both happened and only a spiritual connection would explain it, but it still seemed like a taboo subject.
Jim is an intense and devoted physician and researcher. He is the last person to go off on a wild tangent, but sometimes the spirit moves you to tell your story to a wider audience. Jim needed a publisher and I needed weight loss surgery. We got each other to where we needed to be.
This brings me to Facebook.
I spent the months of September through November getting every aspect of my life together for the weight loss surgery, which ultimately happened on December 1. I've been swept up in all the wonderful things that have happened, and I'm writing two books about it, both with the title Project 199. The first will be out on August 28 of next year.
I needed to confront how heavy I actually was. I weighed 377 pounds when I went into the program at Georgetown. I posted that online and wondered how my Facebook community (and later my Huffington Post audience) would react. Note that I weighed 45 pounds more than William "The Refrigerator" Perry did when he played for the 1985 Chicago Bears.
The Fridge was an object of ridicule because of his weight. I could only imagine what people would say about me.
The reaction was 100 percent supportive. I never got one negative comment and I had hundreds of people write and say, "I'm praying for you."
Several people had their entire church or congregation pray for me. Some were like a childhood friend in Indianapolis or a college buddy in Pennsylvania, and neither had I seen in decades. All of them were leading a focused message to God, in whatever form or faith in which they worshiped God, to let my surgery be successful.
Even before I went in, all of the prayers made a huge impact on me. I posted this note on Facebook the night before the surgery.
I am touched and greatly appreciate the outpouring of prayers and support as I go to surgery tomorrow. One of my greatest blessings is my ability to connect with wonderful people. In a world where there are billions of people worse off than me, I wonder if God is tired of hearing about me, but I truly appreciate it.
My four a.m. wake up call will be one I can't miss, but I have reached a Zen-like calm. I've done everything possible for a good outcome and have contingency plans for every possible bump along the road. This will go smoothly.
Lifted by the confidence derived from hundreds of people praying for me, I leap out of bed on December 1 and was up before the four a.m. wake up call. My surgery could not have gone better and I went home the next day. I've lost 52 pounds at the time I write this and have no doubt that I will make it to 199 pounds. Diabetes looks to be in my rear view mirror. My blood sugar has been normal, without any kind of medications, since the day after surgery. I feel terrific. Well, I am still recovering from surgery, but other than that, I feel better than I have in years.
I have no doubt that the power of the prayers from my Facebook friends were part of the successful outcome.
As we roll into the final weeks of the year 2014, I have a lot to be thankful for. I've stared down my weight loss demon and I've gone public on my weight and the power of prayer, two things that have hung over me like a curse.
I am in the healthiest place spiritually, physically and emotionally that I have ever been in my life and the books that come out of this experience, by me and Dr. Jim, are going to be very successful.
I really can't wait for 2015 to get here. I have many dreams, plans and goals that I want to make happen.
In reflecting back on 2014, one thing is for certain: It's been one hell of a year.
Don McNay is a former syndicated columnist and bestselling author based in Lexington Kentucky. He is the founder of McNay Consulting, RRP International Publishing and Digital Media, and McNay Settlement Group Inc.