I’ll always remember the moment when I learned that my friend Bette had passed away. Like anyone who has received amazingly bad news I sat in stunned disbelief muttering, “It can’t possibly be true.” But there it was in the black and white print of our church bulletin. In the middle of praising and worshipping the Lord I went from amazing gladness to unreal sadness. My body went cold and then numb. I couldn’t concentrate, and the music suddenly went all jumbled in my ears. My heart felt like a hard, cold stone barely beating in my chest.
I had to leave for a few minutes.
I staggered outside into the brilliant sunshine and pulled out my phone. The first thing I did was a quick internet search for Bette’s official obituary, but there was none to be found. I then thumbed through my contacts and spied Bette’s digits, first her office number and then home. I dialed the office first, thinking that perhaps there was some sort of announcement to her patients notifying us of her passing, maybe advising who we could contact if we needed to see another therapist. To my surprise the outgoing message was the same that it has always been, and it was Bette’s voice.
I hung up and slowly dialed her home number with a whole lot of dread…
In the summer of 1994 I experienced the stress and turmoil that comes with the crisis of a life-altering event. I was wandering and lost in a world that suddenly seemed very dark to me and I had no idea where to turn, so I ultimately turned to the source of information that so many folks used to turn to for guidance.
The Yellow Pages.
I was looking for a therapist. I don’t know what I was expecting and had no idea if it would actually help, but I was just desperate enough to flip through the pages in search of someone who had all the answers, and it was there I found Bette Boyd, MFCC. I dialed her office number and immediately hung up. I did this a few times before finally having the courage to leave her a message.
It was a message that ultimately saved my soul…
Speaking of messages, when I dialed Bette’s home number on Sunday I wasn’t sure what to expect. Her husband had passed away a few years ago following a long battle with cancer, and her son and daughter both live in other parts of California. The message machine came on and the cold, robotic voice told me to leave a message.
Um, hi Bette. It’s Don Fulton. Uh, when you get this message can you please call me back on my cell? Nothing urgent, just need to check in with you.
I hung up and waited…
The message that I left for Bette back on that hot summer day 19 years ago was a little more specific. And longer. In fact, I pretty much left my life story on her office voicemail in message number one, detailed a few more things about my current state of affairs in the second, and then finally left my call-back number during my third and final call.
Dr. Bette was about to meet Crazy.
The good doctor called me back within a few hours that day and was so kind, gentle and understanding that it left me a little speechless (or perhaps I had used up all my alloted words for the month in my voicemail messages). The other thing that I recall about that initial conversation was the compassion and empathy, followed by laughter – both hers and mine. I expected things to be very clinical but it would seem that my view of the therapist couch was something straight out of the Bob Newhart show.
So I booked my appointment…
I returned to the church sanctuary and jumped right back into worship. I was so torn. In one sense I was hurt by the loss of my friend without the chance to say good-bye to or even attend a memorial service, but on the other hand I knew that she was with Our Lord. There is no denying the joy that comes when you are blessed with the knowledge that someone has left this world to be with God. There is no more pain or suffering, and His glory is revealed. I sang a little louder and the tears that rolled down my cheeks were of joy and sadness. It was….amazing.
My first appointment was mesmerizing. I walked into Bette’s office and was immediately taken by the efforts she had taken to make the place look and feel like a really comfortable living room. Maybe more like a den. She introduced herself and invited me to sit down. She then asked me if I was doing any better since we last spoke and I essentially took the floor for the next few minutes, dumping one lament after another and just confessing to being lost, scared and feeling very alone in the world. Bette then did something for me that no one else had ever done.
She prayed for me.
Wait, prayer…in a therapist’s office? Something was not quite right. But the interesting thing is that I had in fact been searching. I was seeking love, forgiveness and joy and I was being witnessed to at the time by my boss, and his gentle manner dovetailed nicely with Bette’s willingness to appeal to God on my behalf. It was a life-changer. Our initial session would go just a little over an hour and I booked a follow-up for the next week, and for the better part of two years I found myself in the office of Dr. Bette Boyd, MFCC every other week, where we would pray together and discuss life, love, sex, betrayal, abuse and Jesus Christ.
Bette gave me my very first Bible and I still have it today…
We returned from church on Sunday and I once again sat down at the computer to do some obituary searching. Samantha had suggested that I check with the church elders to inquire about the circumstances of Bette’s passing, but I was too afraid to ask. The one thing that stood out about the announcement in the bulletin was the fact that they had spelled Bette’s name wrong. The announcement read “Betty.” I recall the first time that I scratched out a check to Bette and I had spelled her name incorrectly, but she shrugged it off and said that it happened all the time.
This time around it seemed like the misspelling might really be a little ray of hope that my Bette was still with us.
Bette brought some serious hope and light into my life in those early years of our relationship, and when I finally accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior it was easy to credit the grace of Christ and His instruments of salvation – my boss and friend David Jordan, and my therapist and friend Bette Boyd. My brother and sister in the Lord.
My appointments continued over the years, even after I married Samantha. I struggled with being remarried at times and struggled with things that so many men deal with as they become unsettled with life. Through it all Bette kept praying and listening, listening and praying. Over the years we have laughed quite a bit in her office, and I have to admit that I found it absolutely thrilling that I could make this sweet woman laugh at my tales of woe and George Costanza-like insecurities.
It was her guidance and prayers that saw me through and led me to Christ, but it was her laughter that sustained me in times of crisis. It was that laughter that I would miss the most…
The phone call came Monday morning. Sitting at my desk at work I could hear my cell phone buzzing in my laptop bag. I reached in, pulled it out and saw that it was Bette calling, or at least it was her home number that was calling me. I answered it and there she was. Bette Boyd!
I told her the story of church, the bulletin, my call to her office and ultimately the message left on her robotic answering machine. I told her that they spelled it “Betty” and not “Bette.” She then laughed the laugh that I really needed to hear and told me that she was happy to tell me that she was still alive, and then she promised next time to make sure and call me first before she departed for heaven. I told her we had a deal. And then she laughed some more.
There are so many people that we encounter in this life, some of them for mere moments and others for much longer. Some are very casual acquaintances while a few precious others have a deep and lasting impact on our very souls. I sit here today a changed man from who I was in 1994. I credit God for molding me, shaping me and having a purpose for my life that is still being fulfilled and the difficulty in life that I have experienced has a purpose too.
His holy purpose.
Bette is one of those people who has had a most meaningful, lasting and positive impact on my life, one that has carried me through my darkest hours and has me smiling today more than I ever thought possible.
I’m happy that Bette will one day be in heaven, but I’m glad it wasn’t God’s plan to take her just yet. There’s a lot more laughing left for this lovely woman. The good doctor.
My friend, Bette Boyd.