Sunday, October 8, 2017

When I Didn't Trust My Dentist

I stretched myself out--a little nervously--on the dentist chair, positioned my ear buds and pressed play on the most recent episode of the upside down podcast I had pre-selected on my phone. I hoped to focus my attention on something besides the drilling noises that would very soon be happening inside my mouth.

The dental assistant smiled as she secured the paper bib around my neck and handed me a pair of sun glasses to protect my eyes. I tried to relax and even imagine that I was soaking in the sun at the beach, but when the noise of the drill became deafening and the pressure in my upper mouth intense, I was beyond the point of distraction and began to seriously doubt that this dental work was a good idea.

I didn't trust my dentist.

During my check up/cleaning the week before, he had suggested having two adjacent silver fillings replaced because one was beginning to show a gap between the filling and the tooth. After the hygienist had confirmed that our insurance would cover it, I had naively agreed to make a follow-up appointment. I was pretty sure I had heard somewhere that old silver fillings were best removed from your body, so it seemed to be a good idea.

Increasing the volume of the podcast didn't drown out the drilling vibrations. Surrounded by unrelenting noise, imagining a black hole forming in my precious tooth, I feared the moment that the drill would create unbearable pain beyond the coverage of the anesthesia injection.

Calm down, I told myself. You don't want to have an anxiety attack in the dentist's chair.

Even though I tried hard not to listen to the conversation between the dentist and hygienist as they tossed ideas of Halloween costumes back and forth above my head, I vaguely caught part of a discussion between them that one of the instruments had broken in my mouth and could not be fixed.

What if he breaks my tooth???

I decided then that I didn't really needed to get those fillings replaced. This new young dentist, who had just taken over the practice from the dentist whom we knew and trusted, probably just wanted to create more work for himself. But I was already committed and could not turn back.

I took a deep breath and swallowed as best I could, while my mouth remained forced open with a clamp, and reflected on the chapter on Fear in Louie Giglio's book Goliath Must Fall.

Fear grips us whenever we believe that apart from, or in spite of, our best efforts, something undesirable is going to happen and we can't stop it. Sometimes fear is irrational and sometimes it's rational. But no matter what kind of fear it is, it always affects us.

The dentist--I had now decided I didn't trust at all--told me when the dental work was finally done that one of the fillings he removed was larger than he expected, reaching almost to the root. And because of that, I could expect to have sensitivity for 1-2 days, up to a week.

Later that afternoon the pain began and I decided to distract myself by googling my condition, to discover what kind of outcomes I could expect. I was disheartened when my search led me to some internet horror stories from victims who had silver fillings replaced only to have up to a year of dental disasters, with subsequent filling replacements, unending nerve pain, and root canals.

This was a definite mistake I decided with an overwhelming sense of dread.

I wished I had read up on the pros and cons of filling replacements before I had so quickly and unwisely consented to a potential lifetime of mouth problems. But I could not rewind and redo.

Almost the entire next day I was in bed, with pain both in my mouth and in my head that medication did not touch.

If only I hadn't received dental work from a dentist I didn't trust.

Louie Giglio says, “We don't minimize the situation; we maximize our view of the only One we can totally trust. We don't simply deny the problem we are threatened by; we relocate it to the hands of the only One who can manage it well.

He goes on to say, “Worship and worry cannot occupy the same space; they can't fill our mouths at the same time. One always displaces the other. We either speak doom and destruction, kicking into high gear our worrying and stressing. Or we recount the size and character of the Almighty. We release our outcomes to him and center our thinking in his sovereign plans.”

Thankfully, three days later the pain is much better. But whether I am in pain or not, I really want to work on filling my mouth with worship, not worry. I don't want to be so easily caught up in the fear of future doom, but to focus on the size and character of God. I want to release my outcome to Him (not to a dentist or to a google search), for He is the only One worthy of my complete trust.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Veiled Face in a Muslim Land

My white face was still white. But the traditional black head covering kept my light hair under wraps so that it didn’t broadcast my outsider-ness. Wearing black, not only on my head but all the way down to my toes, I was disguised. Sitting on a slab of kindling wood around a table just five inches off the ground at a Sufi memorial festival in a local village, I was hidden even from my husband. He had briefly left his position of serving tea at the men’s tables and stood just 50 feet away from me, taking pictures of the thousand or so women dressed in black, gathered around tables, to honor the anniversary of the death of the founder of the village Sufi order.

I didn’t see you,” he told me when our family had reconnected after the festival, back in our host family’s courtyard. I was pleased to point out to him in his photos exactly where I was sitting among all the black-clad women. This strange Western woman for once had not stood out in all of her whiteness. For the first time ever since we had moved to China 15 years earlier, I had blended in with those around me. Almost unbelievably, I actually looked like one of the local women.

Facing an environment where everyone else belongs, with cultural expectations that everyone else knows, with a common language that everyone else speaks, the foreignness of the foreigner feels glaringly obvious.

But if the facing of the new environment can be done with a face that doesn’t draw so much attention, there can be a greater sense of entering in, without feeling the weight of stares that so often penetrate the unspoken question in people’s eyes:

Why is she here?  

No one is really noticing me, I marveled, while I tried to slurp down my spicy noodle soup before the next course was served by the young men of the village...

(You can read the rest of the post here at Velvet Ashes)

Thursday, September 28, 2017


A lot had changed in 20 months. In October of 1995, my parents had driven us to LAX for our international move to the Middle Kingdom with 4 month old CJ who slept peacefully for most of the flight. In June of 1997, they picked us up from the same airport a few days shy of CJ's 2nd birthday, for 7 month old Joshua's first visit to America. Regretfully we had saved money and not paid for a child's seat because CJ still qualified as a “lap baby.”

As bad luck would have it, there were no empty seats on the plane for us to spill on to so we had to hold our on-the-go boy for the entire flight. During the longest 20 hour trip Charly and I have ever experienced, from our door at Tianjin Normal University to my parents' door in southern California, CJ slept for only one hour.

We were tired.

Our family of four squeezed into two bulkhead seats, unable to take advantage of the clip-on bassinet--all ready for us as we boarded--because our 95th percentile height and weight baby Joshua did not fit.

Because car seats were non-existent in China, CJ had not been in one since our trip to LAX when he was four months old. And he wanted nothing to do with being buckled in for the 45 minute drive to my parents' home from the airport. Somehow Charly ended up in complete freedom, riding in my Dad's car, and I got stuck in my Mom's car with our hysterical toddler, who I ended up illegally holding in my lap the whole way home.

After a few days of recovery at my parents' house, I wrote them this letter about how I was struggling with homesickness:

I feel like we've come home to family and I know that we're so important to you. It has been so nice to have you all to ourselves and that you don't have a lot of other commitments. I've enjoyed talking with both of you about all kinds of things in a non-rushed way. It has been so great to see you play with CJ and Joshua. CJ has fallen in love with you guys, and I feel like it's going to be hard to leave. He is so happy here. Part of me wishes we could just stay here the whole summer (but maybe we'd all get tired of each other by then!)

I haven't been able to sleep well because I've been thinking about not seeing you for two more years and it makes me feel so sad inside I can't bear it. I really hope we can see you next summer. I love you so much and I wish we didn't live so far away. I think now is maybe the hardest it's ever been for me think about it. I believe that God wants us in China, its just not always very easy. I think being with you these last few days has made me feel overwhelmed with how wonderful it is to be with family. In China we have friends, but it really isn't the same.”

When my Mom shared this 20 year old letter with me a few weeks ago, it transported me right back into that season of homesickness. I could remember how much I struggled with insomnia that summer. I remembered how fun it was to introduce Joshua for the first time to most of our family (Charly's mom and stepdad had traveled to China just after Joshua was born and were the only ones who had met him). And I remembered the joy of watching our boys connect with extended family in person instead of just knowing them from pictures. I remembered how difficult it felt to count down the days until we boarded our end-of-summer transatlantic flight (we decided to pay a little extra to ensure that CJ had a seat for the return trip) because we expected it to be another two years before we would see our family again.

At that point I didn't know that we would be back again the following summer for Jordan to be born in Lawrence, Kansas as Charly was starting his Masters there, and that we would experience the blessing of living closer to our families for a year before returning to Tianjin. I didn't know then that for the 20 years we would live in China, we would get to see my parents at least once a year as they made a commitment to come visit us every year that we didn't travel back to the US.

CJ and Joshua soaking up time with our family

Overseas living brings sacrifice--both for the ones leaving and for the ones left behind.

A longing for togetherness.

A desire to be with those we know and who know us.

An ache for the familiar.

A wish that we could stop time and freeze those special moments before they slip away.

A heart that feels split in two when we (or ones we love) are not present for family traditions and important events.

I wonder if Jesus felt homesick for heaven when He was misunderstood and mistreated here on earth...

When his friends slept during his agonizing night of prayer.

And when they ran away in fear as He was whipped and nailed to a cross.

He was confident that He would be reunited with His Father when the time had come.

And He knew His purpose on earth until that time.

But I imagine that there were times when He ached to be with His Father the way He had before He walked our dusty streets and maneuvered the crowds, handling with incredible discernment those whose hearts were drawn to Him, those who wanted to kill Him and those who demanded from Him.

I imagine that Jesus' heart ached in much the same way that our hearts ache with homesickness.

He knows us and understands our struggles, even better than we do. And because He has promised to always be with us, we can trust that He can sustain us when we are far away from family and all that feels dear to us. So that we never feel truly alone. In creative and tangible ways, He can show us how our new home in a foreign land can feel more like a real home, so that the unfamiliar becomes familiar. But at all points in our journeys, He gives us permission to grieve.

How has being homesick affected you?

*******Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Homesick*******


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