Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The last three months of the year, I need all the energy I can muster. Now this!
“That tooth has to come out,” my dentist had said.
Since last winter, I’d had more health issues than I cared to recount: sinuses, eyes, lungs, shingles, fibromyalgia, even depression from all the problems. As soon as one ailment lessened, another surfaced. And now dental work. Maybe that tooth would just supernaturally fall from my mouth.
My first experience with the supernatural was probably around age five. Mother took me to see an old man (probably in his 50s) who prayed warts away. The ugly knobs lined my fingers and fell across my knuckles. They were gross even at my age and short of seeing a doctor, I’d have done anything to be rid of them. My peers assured me I’d gotten them from frogs, although I had no proclivity for amphibians. Since my brother did, I figured I’d gotten them by some sort of relational osmosis.
Mother and I drove to Toler, Kentucky, a bend in the road, and a short jaunt from where we lived. I didn’t know the wart healer, though I’d heard of him. Mother explained the details so I’d be excited, not nervous: “He’ll pray a special prayer and the warts will slowly disappear over time.”
The warts didn’t fall off in front of me as I’d secretly hoped, but over the next couple of weeks, everything she said happened. No doctor, no grandma mixing weird, foul-smelling concoctions. Just Brother Whachamacallem praying.
I wished things could happen that easily today. Now, it seemed I needed restorative spackle, superglue, and duct tape for all the appointments, tests, and procedures I had with my eleven doctors. I was beginning to feel like the Israelites in the desert, following the cloud of the Lord. Except, unlike the Israelites, it didn’t feel like a guiding cloud—it was a dark cloud and it was trailing me.
So, my dentist made me an appointment with an oral surgeon because the back tooth somewhat hooded the tooth to be removed. The day of the extraction, I met the surgeon and was immediately put to sleep. He didn’t know me, didn’t mention that it may be a difficult extraction. Afterwards, he sent me home with eight pills, standard instructions, and a couple of stitches over a big hole.
When the anesthesia wore off, pain raced into my neck, my teeth, and inside my mouth. My back tooth had an intense ache that medication and no amount of instruction could fix. About 6 PM, distraught and teary, I called the oral surgeon’s answering service and was put through to him.
If he was terse, I was pathetic. Hazy in my thoughts and ill-composed questions. I asked if the back tooth, which hurt to even touch, might be diseased. Why did my upper mouth feel like it had been raked. Was infection spreading? I’d never had pain like this.
“I’m not giving you any more pain medication!” he said emphatically.
I was blindsided. I hadn’t asked for pain meds though the two pills I’d taken weren’t working. I was more concerned about infection and if an Emergency Room visit was imminent.
I would be better in the morning, he assured me, when he could see me.
I hung up completely unraveled. He had shown no compassion and little concern for my well-being. And he treated me as if I was an addict. Surely there are easier ways to get drugs! But, addiction was a problem in West Virginia and he didn’t know me.
The rest of that evening and late into the night, the pain escalated and I cried myriad prayers. “Lord, help me to be resilient, and kind. Because frankly I don’t feel kind.” Then, “Lord, just heal me. Jesus died so I can be healed.” Finally, “Forgive me, Lord. Pain makes us empathetic, strong. Jesus endured. Help me to do the same.” My prayers ran the gamut.
I had resigned myself to two extremes—I would deal with the pain or the pain just might kill me—when an exceedingly manipulative, self-absorbed notion ran through my head: “If you really loved me, Lord, you’d heal me.”
I wished I could take it back. It wasn’t even how I felt. But, at that moment, having whispered the most contrived prayer of the night, I received grace. My pain went from 10 to 0, instantly! Beautiful Grace. Thank God for the mysteries of heaven and what Jesus did at the cross. As to my tiny role—I had spouted a litany of affected, nonsensical prayers, sprinkled with some faith.
Sobbing with relief, I thanked God and woke Alan to share the good news. It was 2:30 AM.
I’d like to say that’s the end of the story, but later that day a mild pain kicked in. The extraction horror—the unbearable pain—was miraculously gone! The socket pain, however, was pushing full throttle.
Befuddled, I prayed: “Lord, why heal me half-way? Why heal one pain and not the other?” And, “What was that pain-free night all about?”
I questioned God the way I did when, in my teens and twenties, I pushed Him away. Yet He never gave up on the five-year old who believed warts would vanish. Then and now, I expected Him to be predictable, like a mother, not considering the Bible, which pretty much establishes His un-predictability!
It was just hard to comprehend a partial move of God considering the time I’d poured boiling water over my hand (see Angels Amongst Us) and He’d completely healed me thirty dreadful minutes and two prayers later. From removing warts to finding Alan and me a new home (see House of Grace) many of my past appeals had been answered. Thoroughly. I expected more of the same.
I expected the expected.
I got the unexpected. He went off on a tangent. From Isaiah 43:19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
God showed me this scripture, this principle, through a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick that I knew was meant for me, and really, for us all. Our expectation of God mustn’t rely on our history with Him: we can’t look back to clarify the present. And while we’re at it, we can’t second-guess God today.
Our relationship is ever evolving.
I’ve asked God for many things—haven’t you? Asked Him to shape me, guide me, make me more like His Son. Maybe this incomplete healing wasn’t incomplete at all. Maybe it would help accomplish exactly what I’d prayed for. He’d still performed a miracle. Not exactly how I’d envisioned, but the worst pain had vanished. God had blessed me in this wilderness!
Consider St. Paul’s declaration in 2nd Corinthians: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Unlike St. Paul, I don’t welcome adversity. I’m too 21st Century reliant on comfort, which may be why blind eyes and graves seldom open anymore. But I can, when I’m weak, let God take over.
It’s an extraordinary thing when God intervenes. You know in your “knower” that the Divine has touched you. Sometimes it evens translates through a warm glow, tingles, or a presence. But, with physical pain, at least in my two cases, pain just left my body. All at once. That’s pretty spectacular, too.
Must I question the ‘why’ or even the ‘how’ when I know Who?
I realized I’d been looking at the cloud that was trailing me the wrong way. I’d seen a threat, when really, it was akin to the cloud of God’s glory that blessed the Israelites. They didn’t always see their blessing either. They grumbled even when they’d seen a feast of miracles. Yet everything they needed was in that cloud: water, food, shoes and clothes that never wore out. Military supremacy. I too had endured some pretty tough enemies. I too had grumbled. Still, God had brought me through.
Dental pain might be a stretch for many to see the hand of God at work, but dental pain, which kicked in my fibromyalgia, was a nightmare. (With thanks to my dentist for helping me through) I declare it my final trial in the succession of misfortunes that have loomed over me for months. I am grabbing hold of God’s promise in Hebrews 10:23. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
Yes, “He is faithful.” Yet, He doesn’t relate to me like he did my five-year-old self, or even the woman I was last year. He wants—no! He expects me/us to grow. What’s in front of us will always take us to greater heights if we’ll let Him work through us. God’s faithfulness is shown through a litany of saints—from Abraham, King David, and Queen Esther to Ruth and Naomi and St. Paul.
So it went with them, so it goes with us: What comes next is better!
Sure, they all went through the wilderness, and we will too. Just remember St. Paul’s “When I am weak, then I am strong” declaration. Lean on God. I mean, give it up. Press!
My best days are still in front of me. Even at my age, I believe that. Just because I can’t see, touch, or even understand what He’s doing at times, doesn’t mean—has never meant—He isn’t ever-present. His methods may change, but I anticipate, with joy and gladness, with awe and conviction, what God will do in my future. And I will remember His past faithfulness and His promises—to me and to the saints who went before me. I will stand on His Word with prayer and thanksgiving, knowing His promises are true. And believing with certainty Roman 8:18. “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us.”
This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on the past and look to the future, as we see the fruit of our labor and the goodness of God, let us consider that our thankfulness and faithfulness have been and will be rewarded. Now and in the world to come.
I am so thankful for the blessings God bestows. I know you are too.