Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Broken Teeth


A year and a half ago during a very busy week, my husband’s oldest daughter’s wedding week, I broke a tooth. It was a back molar. The inside quarter of the crown snapped right off in my mouth while I was eating chocolate chips. This will seem funnier later.
Because it didn’t hurt and it seemed to be okay I decided I could ignore it and I didn’t need to have a dentist look at it.
I told no one.
Why?
Pride? Fear? Who knows?
I just know for over a year I knew I had a broken tooth hidden in my mouth that no one else knew about or could see. But I knew about it every day of my life. When I brushed my teeth, when I rubbed my tongue across its now sharp edges and felt the broken space, the emptiness, I knew.
Briefly I thought that this might be an issue. But a month went by, three months, six months and then a year. Nothing. Just a broken, jagged tooth. I dismissed the possibility of it becoming a problem.  
Until last month.
Last week I woke up with horrible ear and jaw pain. I endured both for three days. Finally I went to the walk-in clinic. I had an ear infection. Not a flaming one, but the beginnings of one. Way too much fluid in my ear, and definitely the wrong color. So, the doctor put me on an antibiotic and said if the pain in my ear and jaw were not markedly better in two or three days then I needed to see someone else.

Sunday and Monday the pain persisted. Dose after dose of antibiotic. Does after dose of ibuprofen. I woke up Tuesday morning and the pain was far less severe. I was quite happy. All this time I had this niggling feeling that this broken tooth of mine was causing the problem.  
On Tuesday I went to school and taught. Ate lunch, and then went to work. In the next hour I thought by jaw and ear were going to explode. Stabs of pain. Pulsating and hot.
Enough was enough.
I called the dentist. Asked for an emergency appointment. They accommodated me and got me in in less than an hour and a half.  
I explained the whole ordeal. My teeth were examined. X-rays were taken. And two more tests were done.
My tooth was dead. The tooth I had worried and hidden was dead. And it was the culprit of my ear and jaw pain.
I had two options. Leave it in my mouth and do a root canal and crown or extract it.
I laughed.
One option.
Extract it.
Take it out.
The tooth that was once strong and healthy became damaged, and I failed to take care of it. Now, it was causing me pain and visible to everyone.
I’m not sure I tried to deceptively hide this; I just didn’t bother to tell anyone.
But as I lay there in the chair, being numbed with giant needles and then for thirty minutes as the dentist attempted to get this broken, dead tooth out of my mouth, I prayed. This constant litany of prayer. For me. For him.
And I shook. My whole body. The nurse later told me she could see my jaw quiver. Somewhere in the midst of the whole ordeal the dentist patted my shoulder and said, “By the way, you’re doing great.” His words barely registered.
I remember at first just thinking I wanted to be strong. Unafraid. I didn’t want to flinch or react. This had to be done. It had to be removed.
About midway through the dentist and I realized that the roots of this tooth were deep. Deep and curved.
About three-fourths of the way through he realized the tooth was going to have to be cut in half and pulled out in two pieces.
My mouth became somewhat of a war zone. He pushed and pulled and wiggled my tooth with such force that I could feel it in the other side of my jaw.
At last one root popped and came out. Then the other.
And it was done.
I was still shaking. Still praying.
He explained why it had been so hard. Because the tooth was broken it was very hard for him to get a grip and a purchase on it. Then the other half of the crown crumbled as he tried to pull it out. But it was extracted. All of it. No roots left. No roots to set up a bitter infection. He looked at the nurse and said let’s get her cleaned up.
At that point my face must have registered some serious confusion. She began to clean my face. TMI I know, but there had been blood in the fray. And shrapnel. Pieces of the tooth were on my face and chest. She was gentle and very sweet.
The dentist told me I could sit and relax.
The nurse asked me if I wanted to see the tooth. I did. Such a tiny thing. Two tiny pieces of bone. And they caused so much havoc.
They explained how to take care of the wound. Of the hole. Of the socket where the tooth had once been.
Finally I felt steady enough to walk out. To leave.
And I did.
Over the course of the next few days I would play the day and that scene over and over again. At one point I stood up to get something and I discovered my hip, knee and ankle on my right side were incredibly sore. What in the world? I sat down in the recliner to relax and watch a little TV. I crossed my right ankle over my left and then shifted my weight. That’s when my hip, knee and ankle really hurt. I looked down and realized that the recliner was much like the dentist chair. During the whole procedure I was in this exact same position. I tried so hard to handle the situation well that I tensed my whole body in a position that looked relaxed, but in reality my ankles were locked together like a dove joint. 
Somewhere in my review of the day I realized the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. I
illuminating. Exposing. Revealing.
First, I believe the enemy did a great many things to deter me and derail my focus from some very important events. He caused me to look inward to the pain. But what the enemy means for bad, our Mighty God always can show you the good.
Second, I believe my tooth was and is much like the idolatry. Originally our idols may  have been something healthy and good, but if they get damaged and then hidden? Well, then they deteriorate and decay. Then they die and they cause pain. And sometimes we can’t tell where the pain comes from. We treat other things. And the pain continues, until we find the source.
Third, when we recognize that damage has been done we need to go to God. Immediately. We are not to wait and roll our tongues over the edges and see just how sharp they are. We are not to assume that just because it seems to be causing no problems right now that it will continue not to do so in the future. That’s a very faulty and dangerous assumption.
Fourth, I believe we need to lay down our pride and this staunch stoicism of wanting to appear strong. To appear unfazed. To appear in control. To appear confident. To appear flawless.
Fifth, I believe we need to pray. Pray. Pray. And pray some more.
Sixth, it's amazing to me the tools God will use to teach us.

Monday, October 20, 2014

#MyFaithHeroines


My precious friend, Terri, challenged me. She has challenged me before, but I have failed to rise to those challenges. This suggestion, however, has not gotten lost in the endless stacks and shuffles of paper and books that line every horizontal surface in my house. No. This one stayed.
Terri sent me a message.
Do it. Do it. She said. And she sent me the link explaining what she wanted me to do.
This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. 
Michelle DeRusha asked us to blog about our faith heroines. To recount the women in our lives who helped to solidify our faith, who added to the water in our faith bucket and who unknowingly caused us to reach deeper and want to know our Almighty God.  
Truthfully I would put Terri near the very top of my faith heroine list. I considered just reposting my tribute to her, but I know she would fuss at me and encourage me to do something different. Out of respect for her and our decades of friendship I will be true to her suggestion. But she needs to understand it was a hard choice to not include her (I guess I just have. If you want to know about her read Quarter of a Century).

Two Heroines of Faith

I should have known. God lays groundwork long before it is needed. He builds foundations long before you need to stand on them.
This assignment is to share about my heroines of faith. Immediately two particular women come to mind. As I look back into my childhood and college years I realize I should have understood what God was doing, but I was too young both times. The first time I was chronologically too young. I am not sure I have actual memories of the events or if I simply hold onto others’ stories. The second time I was chronologically old enough, but spiritually I was still very much of a newborn.
Mamaw Mandy. That’s what I called her. My maternal great-grandmother. My earliest positive memories revolve around her.  She was old before I was born, so by the time I have recollections of her she seemed quite ancient to me.
Mamaw Mandy was a frail and tiny woman. Her long gray wisp of a braid wound in small knot at the back of her head. Her fingers were completely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis; they opened only wide enough for her to clasp them around the handles of her metal walker. My only personal memories of her come as snippets:  her bedroom where she spent almost all of her time, the couch where she would allow me to stand behind her and brush out her long hair. I was a boisterous and talkative child (surprise anyone?), but she indulged me. I cringe because I know with hindsight I didn’t treat her with the respect she deserved. Even now it bothers me. But she loved me anyway.
What was the evidence of that love?
She prayed for me.
I know about these prayers not because I heard them, but because of my grandmother and mother’s accounts. Over the years they shared recollections of Mamaw’s prayers too many times to count.
The stories always follow the same telling: as a child I played outside in my grandmother’s front yard. Mamaw Mandy’s windows and front door opened onto a porch overlooking a wide, tree-lined front yard. I played alone. I was an only child, and the trees were my playmates.  
During these childhood recesses Mamaw Mandy would hear me playing outside and rise from her bed, pull her walker to her, wrap her gnarled fingers around the handles and then shuffle to the front door.  She stood—a bent sentinel—watching and craning her head to follow me in my imaginative play. In the physical realm this woman seemed weak and far too frail to cause any ripples in the cosmos, but I know now she did. She rippled her great-granddaughter’s world because while she stood at that front door she prayed for me.
I don’t know what she asked. I don’t know what she pleaded over me. I don’t know any of the words. The words were not preserved for me in my awareness.  Mamaw Mandy’s prayers, however, were and are not limited or bound by time or space. Whatever she prayed as she stood guard at that door hovers over me today.  Those prayers still rise before the throne room of the Almighty. They continue to add to the volume and rise of golden-bowl incense before the Father.  
I believe her prayers assisted the course and path of my life.  
Long, long before I understood prayer or prayer warriors my great-grandmother prayed for me. She warred for me. I believe those prayers are now a part of my spiritual armorthose words she spoke on my behalf before the Father are now links in the chain mail I don and wear in my daily life.
Perhaps her prayers were merely sentences sent up to heaven. Maybe, they were a few words spoken a couple of times. Whispers. Neither affects the outcome. Truly I am writing these words now partly because of her prayers then.
Fast forward fourteen years.
My sophomore year of college I enrolled in a required class titled Music Appreciation. It was a strange and peculiar music I was asked to appreciate. My Bluegrass DNA had never experienced this wordless and complicated genre. During that semester I realized the crazy strains of music that accompanied Tom chasing Jerry or Bugs Bunny rubbing Elmer Fudd’s head were actually great scores composed by Mozart and Beethoven and others. But as the semester lengthened I realized I was not enrolled in this class simply to learn to appreciate the geniuses of the classical music world.
No. Of course not. The Lord almost always has a double-fold purpose for all things. And this class certainly was no exception.
The professor of the class was Margaret Therkelsen. She was an arresting and handsome woman, long-limbed and large boned. Assuredly she was the tallest woman I had ever encountered, at least 6’0.  
I was mesmerized by her grace. Certainly I was taken by her physical grace which belied her stature, but far more by her powerful spiritual grace. Each morning I attended her class with anticipation, an eagerness and a hunger. She would walk in, come to the front of the class and open her small leather New Testament and thumb through the tissue paper pages until she found the passage she wanted. The book was so worn that it draped over her hand, and somehow I knew that the state of her small Bible was the result of use not abuse.
Then she taught from that little book. Dr. Therkelsen taught with an authority that stunned me. Never in my life had I heard a woman speak with such spiritual authority about such deep things in Scripture.
NEVER.
She taught about prayer that semester. I remember very little about the composers and the language of music, but I do remember learning the language of prayer.
It seemed as if she were a translator who unfolded, at least for me, the mysteries and power of prayer.  
I ate her words. Surely this is the only metaphorical language I can use to accommodate how much the Spirit used her to teach me. I remember taking notes furiously (how I wish I had those now). I sighed each time she closed her tattered and threadbare New Testament. I didn’t want the teaching to end. I wanted more. But then she bowed her head to do exactly what she had been teaching. Suddenly the teaching became flesh.  
While sitting in that room, though spiritually immature, I knew God was unfolding to me my purpose and calling. Certainly then I could not articulate this truth, but the fiber of me knew it. The Spirit in me bore witness and affirmation to it.
Years before this Music Appreciation class the Father used my frail Mamaw Mandy’s prayers to begin the unshakeable foundation in my life. Dr. Therkelsen built on that foundation.
Years passed before I understood that power in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with physical strength or the lack of it. Mamaw Mandy was a frail and ailing elderly woman; Margaret Therkelsen was robust and strong. The power of prayer has nothing to do with education or the lack of it. Mamaw Mandy completed the fourth grade and Dr. Therkelsen earned a Ph.D. in Music and a M.A. in psychology.
Each woman wielded a power not from their own strength but from the Spirit of God and his calling on their lives.
These two women dispelled a traditional teaching I had absorbed as a child and teen. Indirectly I was taught women were secondary in the kingdom of God, that we could never stand and hold the place of friendship with God as men did.
Mamaw Mandy and Dr. Therkelsen taught me God hears the prayers of women, of his daughters.
And answers them. Empowers them. Friends them.
These two women taught me where the battles are fought and won.
These women are two of my faith heroines.
When I read Hebrews 11 I know that the ending of that passage is not the completion of Faith’s Hall of Fame—no, it was only the beginning of it. For me Mamaw Mandy and Dr. Therkelsen are added—
By faith they prayed
And I have been forever changed.

 

Father, oh how I praise you. How I thank you for what you do when we are unaware. How grateful I am for these two women and their presence and influence in and on my life. I thank you for placing them where and when you did. I thank you that when no one else seemed to be watching out for a little four year girl this grandmother stood guard. Thank you for putting watchmen on the porches and on the thresholds of doors. Certainly, Father, you put Mamaw at the threshold of me—praying for me. For my protection, for my safety. For my growth. For my salvation.

And Father, how I thank you for Dr. Therkelsen. Oh, that you have helped me to hold her Spirit led teaching in my mind and spirit’s eye. Father, how you used her to mold me, to set me free of so much spiritual bondage and confinement. How you used her to instill in me a deep love and appreciation for your Word. Through example you used her to show me the power and intimacy of prayer. Father, thank you that your words bring life. And decades after they are spoken they are still giving life. The prayers and words of these two women are still molding and shaping my responses to you. Father, thank you. Thank you for supplying all our needs according to your riches. Thank you that my supply included these two women. Thank you. Praise you. Oh, that you would receive all the glory for the works these women have accomplished. In the sweet name of Jesus’. Amen and amen.

 

 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Treasure Hunting: Pelicans


Gawky.
Awkward.
Ugly.
Pelicans.
Have you ever seen one up close?
 
 
At the beach I was drawn to them. My attention darted to them and my gaze fixed on them.

Rarely do they walk around on the shore. Their feathers are the color of driftwood. Their long necks and heads seem out of proportion and lack grace in the curvature. These birds sit on the surface of the water bobbing, heads bent over and chin tucked tightly to their chests.
When walking around in the sand they are not in their element.
I followed them everywhere.
One morning Steve and I were out walking. A pelican walked on the shore too, snapping at the water and scooping something into its great cavernous bill. Then it would lift its gangly neck straight up and swallow. More gulping than swallowing. That’s when I really realized how gawky, awkward and ugly they are. Up close and personal they are a very strange looking bird.
 
That morning I followed this bird down the beach. I kept getting closer and closer. I almost got close enough to touch it. And then it flew away.

In the air this ugly, ungainly bird transformed.

 
Its neck and head shifted into a straight line, only the smooth rise of its head set above its wingspan—which was enormous. It wings spread and pulled at the air lifting it higher and higher with speed. But also with an agility and grace that was absent when on the shore.
In flight this bird did what it was designed to do.
Fly.
And dive.
To watch a pelican dive is astonishing. If you don’t train your eye to stay with them you will miss the landing, miss the scoop. That great awkward bill, which on shore was cumbersome, now is efficient and elegant. Gone was the strange, ugly bird on the shore.
We are like the pelicans.
Sometimes on shore, in places we have not been gifted, we feel and seem awkward and gawky and ugly. We are out of our element. We are walking outside our realm of giftedness. Our gait on shore is ungainly and choppy. Grace seems to be absent. Elegance seems faded.
But in the air.
In the air we are doing what we were meant to do. When we are walking in the gifts God has given us then we fly. Wings outstretched. Neck elongated. Bill lifted and extended. And suddenly we are flying. The awkwardness falls away. Our unsightly gait becomes soaring.
There may only be short seasons of this flight. Only brief moments of lucidity. Of clarity.
Often times I try to move outside of my giftedness. I attempt to be or do something the Spirit did not give. Did not bestow. During these times out-of-my-element I expend more energy, acquire more stress, become more discouraged and develop more insecurity.
I rarely spotted a pelican on the shore. Only twice.  They tended not to hang out there. Instead they spread their wings and did what they were made to do. Fly.
You and I were created to fly. In whatever matter and manner that translates. Paul explains this to us in Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

We are given gifts by and through the Holy Spirit for the equipping  and building up of the Body of Christ. When we operate in these gifts we benefit, but even more God’s Body benefits.  
The Body of Christ in all its various and sundry places needs its people operating in their gifts. This Body needs its teachers to teach and its preachers to preach and its prophets to exhort and its pastors to shepherd and its administrators to administer.
The pelican taught me a great lesson.
Now, when I struggle with that awkward and gawky gait I ask myself a question. Am I moving in the giftings God has given me? Am I attempting to do something the Holy Spirit didn’t intend for me to do?  Usually I have to answer the first question no and the second yes.  (There are a few exceptions: when the Lord calls me out of my comfort zone. Out of the familiar. Out of the known. In order to expand my faith and trust in Him.)
Fly, friends.
Don't spend your time and energy waddling around on the shore. Just fly. Even if it is for a brief moment.
We will be blessed when you do. We will know more of him because you do.

 

We were looking at each other.