Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spiro By Faith, Not By Sight (Yet)

I have a beard. Why?

It's a birth defect. My mom's eggs were damaged. By what?

Radiation. From what?

The Hanford spill in Washington forty or fifty years ago. I'm a radiation mutant. I talked about it in a previous blog, here.

There are ways to get rid of beards.

I tried electrolysis. It was futile. My beard is so thick and grows so fast that the tiny needle with the individual follicle shock treatment could never keep up.

I tried laser hair removal. It worked, but it was very expensive, and I was told because of the thickness of my beard, I'd need 12-24 similar such treatments. I could never afford that.

I tried hormone cream, but those cream-makers hadn't counted on me. They meant the cream to be for a little bit of dark fuzz here and there, not the Schwarzwald Chin. Also, the cream is by prescription only, and again, very expensive.

I tweezed. I tweezed and tweezed and tweezed. For years and years and years.

Oh, and waxing? Ha. My big, strong, manly hairs just laughed at that ineffective wax. Plus, in order for my hairs to get long enough for the wax to be able to grab onto them and yank them out of my face, I'd have to grow my beard out for two weeks. I don't have time to sit around inside my house for two whole weeks waiting for my beard to grow.

I finally gave up and started shaving my face. I use the Norelco patented Lift-and-Cut system. It works pretty well. In order to keep the black shadow off my chin, I have to shave twice a day. And it hurts. Every time.

Last spring, at our church's annual women's retreat, the topic was prayer. I was presented with the idea of prayer cards. It's just a little system for keeping track of your prayer life. I love it. Let me know if you want me to write a post about it. I'll explain it in detail. I learned it from my mentor. She's amazing.

I was encouraged to put even the impossible requests on my prayer cards.

So after 11 years, I asked God the impossible question. On my prayer card, I wrote: "no beard". I even drew a little heart next to the request, just so He'd know I'd still love Him anyway, even if He wouldn't make my beard go away.

Through an unlikely series of events that could only have been strung together by Almighty God, I found myself sitting in the office of a very nice endocrinologist only three months later.

He closely examined my peppery stubble under a big magnifying glass surrounded by a powerful, revealing light, and mumbled, almost to himself, "Yeah...you're not messing around with facial hair here. You've got a very impressive beard."

He tested me. He did every test known to man for possible causes of facial hair on a woman. He ruled out all of the dangerous things, like various life-threatening diseases for which beards are a side-effect. He also ruled out polycystic ovary syndrome, which had always been my diagnostic guess.

He calls my condition "idiopathic congenital hirsutism". Sounds impressive, right? It just means they don't really know why I have a beard, but it's probably a birth defect. I told him about my mom's damaged eggs, and he said, "Bingo."

Case closed.

Then he gave me a prescription for a little drug called spironolactone. We'll call it "spiro". I looked it up on Wikipedia. (As did a few of you, just now.) It's not even for hair removal. It's a weak diuretic.

But there's a little paragraph that perked up my ears. "Due to its anti-androgen effect, it can also be used to treat hirsutism, and is a common component in hormone therapy for male-to-female transsexual and transgendered people." In other words, if a guy gets a sex change, (s)he takes spiro to keep her beard away.

He explained to me what spiro does. It inhibits testosterone at the follicle level.


Here's what he meant.

Every hair follicle has a life cycle. It's about nine months long. At the beginning of that follicle's life cycle, it is injected with hormones which determine, among other things, the size and color of the hair which will grow out of that follicle. Then the hair grows for a while, and then the follicle dies, flushes the hair out, lies dormant for a little while, and starts growing again.

Spiro blocks testosterone from being injected into the follicle on Hormone Injection Day at the beginning of the life cycle. When testosterone is denied access to a follicle, the hair grows out like tiny peach fuzz, as God intended.

Because spiro does its job at the beginning of the life cycle, every follicle that's already in the middle of a life cycle has to wait until it reaches the end of the cycle and has lain dormant and then decides to produce again before spiro can works its magic.

For this reason, I was told, it would be a full NINE MONTHS of taking spiro TWICE A DAY before I noticed any change to the quantity or thickness of my facial hair.

I was all gung ho. Bring it on! I cant wait nine months after 11 years!

I was a little nervous about the cost of the prescription, but when I got to Costco, I found it was only $15 a month. I can afford $15 a month to be beard-free!

I was also a little nervous that the pharmacy tech would think I was on sex-change hormone therapy, but the pharmacy tech turned out to be the wife (I'm totally serious!) of my husband's cousin Duane. Yep, the same Cousin Duane that kept Jeff from getting a speeding ticket in my blog post, here. So she knew me, and knew I wasn't getting a sex change. So that was happy.

I started taking spiro twice a day. Faithfully. I knew it wouldn't show on my face for nine months, but I started looking in the mirror after a week anyway.

After a couple more weeks, I quit looking in the mirror. Depressed. Impatient. Nine whole months? That's as long as a pregnancy! That's a lifetime! (Well, no, it's not a lifetime. It's a hair follicle life cycle! Ha!)

I started forgetting to take my hair drugs. I took them once a day instead of twice. I skipped a day. I skipped two days.

I finished up my first bottle of spiro and then forgot to fill my prescription. A few weeks later, I finally filled it again. It's supposed to last one month. I finished the second bottle off in two, because I kept forgetting to take it. I put "remember to take my hair drugs twice a day" on my prayer card. But then I 'forgot' to pray. I even set up reminders for myself in Outlook. Twice a day my laptop chimed cheerfully at me: "take your hair drugs".

Actually, the Outlook reminders worked well for me. But when that second bottle ran out, I forgot to fill my prescription again. I'd successfully taken two months' worth of hair drugs in five months' time.

You see, I just didn't have the patience to follow through. I just couldn't continue to do something that felt useless. I couldn't do what had zero visible effect. I balked at it. It seemed pointless. Nine months was just too long to wait. I knew the promise. I saw my newly beardless friend, who *had* been able to stay faithful all those long months. I read the information. I understood the science. But because I had no proof, I quit.

And then I was all discouraged, because if I'd taken the drugs faithfully, my beard would be gone by April 2008. But because I kept stopping and starting, I pushed the Beard End Date out that much further.

What I failed to realize is that by giving up on the drugs, I was really giving up on God. Hadn't I asked Him to take my beard away? Hadn't He come through like gangbusters, getting me that appointment with the specialist quicker than lightening? Hadn't He provided me with an affordable, painless solution? Hadn't He answered my prayer?

Maybe. Maybe not. I wanted proof. Period.

Then my mom came to see me and asked if I was still taking the drugs. Ummm...well...

But she knows me really well. She knows my restless, impatient nature.

She marched me back to Costco and took my kids on shopping cart races while I stood in the prescription pick-up line. She finished out my prescription, buying me all of the four remaining refills at once, and Cousin Duane's wife explained the process for acquiring more refills, since spiro is now my lifelong friend.

I don't know why, but when someone else foots the bill, I feel more accountable. To not take my hair drugs would be to waste my mom's money. For whatever reason, that, in my mind, warrants good stewardship. I want to be faithful with what Mom entrusted to me.

I made new prayer cards for the new year, and once again included a request to remember to take my hair drugs twice a day. I reinstated my Outlook reminders, one of which, in fact, is blinking at me even as I type. These reminders only work when my laptop is on, so they're not fail-safe.

But God is. He is faithful when I am forgetful. He reminds me to take my hair drugs even when my laptop is turned off. Not with words. I don't hear a heavenly chime like my laptop chime. But I'll start to head to bed and suddenly a picture of my pill bottle will flash into my mind. It's pretty cool, actually.

Have I seen any change in my beard? Nope. None. Not until September, at the earliest.

But do I believe this is God's answer to my prayer for no beard? Absolutely.

Can I, in faith, take hair drugs twice a day for nine months without visible results? Of course. Especially since I won't be able to stop taking them after nine months. I have to keep taking them to keep inhibiting testosterone at the follicle level, probably for the rest of my life.

But let me tell you. A tiny white pill that tastes minty twice a day wins hands down over the painful, scraping Norelco Lift-and-Cut system twice a day. No question.

Faith is weird. I don't know why God asks us to trust Him blindly. I don't know why faithfulness is a life lesson. And I don't have anything useful to say about faith because I've never really been particularly faithful to anything for any length of time except my belief in God. But even the practice of that belief has been highly sporadic.

So I think God is giving me a glimpse of the power of faith. There's been a promise stated. "If you take this drug, your beard will go away in nine months." Will I believe the promise? Will I take spiro by faith, and not by sight?

And even though my beard (or lack thereof), is tangible in my life, it's just an illustration. A picture of what faith means.

Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Aside from having no beard, what else do I hope for? What am I certain of that I do not yet see?

Friendship with a holy God. Heaven. Life everlasting. Strength for today. Rest for my soul. Protection. Provision. Comfort. Forgiveness. Grace.

Do I see evidence of these things in my life? Not always. Should I quit? No. Should I stop talking to God if He hasn't made me everything I want to be yet? Absolutely not. Should I rail against Him because His timing doesn't match mine? Never.

Abba says in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares Yahweh. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."

Some of what I hope for I will not see until I am with Christ. And even though I have to wait a lifetime for some bits of faith to be realized, I am very thankful that along the way, God allows some faith to become sight. While I eagerly hope for heaven and the glorious appearance of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I also eagerly hope for September, and the disappearance, at long last, of my beard.