Phantom Pain

The pain was intense. Throbbing and shooting. Stars appeared before my eyes each time I drank a glass of cold water or sipped even lukewarm coffee.

“Not good,” I thought. “Nope, not good at all.”

A week had already gone by since my root canal—a procedure I thought would take away the tooth pain that originally sent me to the dentist.

Here it was, though, more than seven days later and the pain was worse than it was before. Of course, I did the very thing my husband told me not to do. I went onto the computer to self-diagnose.

“It says here…”

“Uh oh, the pain might be…”

“Yikes. Not good. Not good at all…”

My husband rolled his eyes and said something very sensible.

“Just go back to the dentist.”

And then added, “Instead of sitting here and worrying about something that is probably nothing.”

He was right. I was worrying about many somethings which were probably nothings at all. But the pain? There was no denying it was intense. It was real. And my worries? They were intense and real too.

Back to the dentist I went.

As I sat in the chair certain another root canal was in my near future, I told the man in the white coat swiveling on the little stool next to me, how I was feeling.

I was quite proud of my monologue, emphasizing the word “pain” at the right moments and describing colorfully the throbbing in the tooth.

My performance, however, of a country pastor with a serious tooth problem wasn’t as convincing as I thought as the dentist just nodded and smiled. Not one shred of concern showed on his face.

“Okay then, let’s see what’s going on,” he said.

A few jabs and pokes with the metal pick in his hand revealed some tender gums.

“How about here? Any pain?”

“Nope,” I gurgled with my mouth opened.

“Here?”

I gurgled a negative again.

The jabbing and poking stopped as quickly as it began.

I braced myself for the treatment I knew would come. After all, I read all about my problem on the Internet.

“You’re fine,” said the dentist. “Everything is fine.”

The puzzled look in my eyes, invited him to continue.

“You are having phantom pain. The nerves in your mouth haven’t caught up with your brain,” he said, adding quickly, “You’re not alone. This is more common than you think.”

“Really?” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed now at my dramatic monologue of the trials and tribulations of pain I had delivered just a few minutes before.

Phantom pain.

How strange it was that a pain that didn’t exist could be so real?

I couldn’t get this phenomenon out of my head. It lingered with me for days, haunting me like phantoms tend to do.

“But the pain is so real,” I tried explaining to my husband, who sat there smiling when he heard what he had already knew. That everything was fine.

Sure enough, once I knew the pain wasn’t real, that there wasn’t anything serious to worry about, it began to loosen its grip on me. Whatever shooting pain that did rear its ugly head, I could better handle it, for I knew it was nothing that could defeat me. It just wasn’t real.

The following day as I went on my customary morning walk on the rail trail, I still thought about phantoms. I thought about the one I had allowed to fester in my life as tooth pain. I thought about the phantoms we invite into our lives and allow to worry us, scare us and ultimately cause us unnecessary pain.

Phantoms that climb into our heads convincing us that the worse in life is going to happen. Doom and gloom will prevail. Nothing is going to get better. The pain in life is just going to keep stabbing your heart.

How many phantoms beyond the pain in my tooth, I wondered, have I allowed to weigh me down and discourage me? How many problems weren’t problems at all? How many hurts were non-existent? More importantly, where was my faith when these phantoms took hold of me?

“Lord, I believe. Now help my unbelief,” I whispered on the trail, echoing the sentiment of the man who reached out to Jesus for help and remembering, quite humbly, that sometimes believing in the power, healing, guidance and grace of Jesus doesn’t come easy. Especially when those darn phantoms seem so powerful and become so real in our lives.

But Jesus who calmed threatening seas with just a word, “Peace,” and who rid many a demon with an authoritative “be gone,” can and will take care of our pains.

With a word, with a cry, with a plea, with a sigh…we just need to remember to call on the sweetest name ever. To call upon Jesus. For he is real. Our phantoms are not.

 

 

Those in Exile

An Accidental Country Pastor’s Advent Journey 

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways and unexpected ways. 

Advent Day 1:

O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

Advent is a season that begins in a puzzling way for our culture. It begins not with the festive “ho, ho, ho’s” and bright twinkling lights. Advent begins with the dark still hovering over the land, with people yearning to see light.

It’s a season that begins with the invitation for us to listen to the voices of those in exile. To really listen to the mournful voices who cry out to God to be delivered from suffering. The voices who beg to be heard. The voices who simply want to be “home.”

We’re in a season where that ache to be home is very real for so many. The ache could be the desire to be physically home. My sister knows that ache. She and her husband moved to Florida a few weeks ago and are having to live in an extended-stay motel as the completion date of their house has been delayed. Her hope to have been in their new home for Christmas will probably not happen this year.

The joy of beginning a new chapter is not quite what she had envisioned. She had envisioned a glistening Christmas tree standing in her very own living room. But here she is. Right now. Not home. Yet.

Then there is the ache that I think is the more common this time of year. One we know all too well, especially as we get older. The ache to return to the home of one’s childhood. There you can once again smell the warm sugar cookies mom is taking out of the oven. You can see dad teetering on the ladder positioning the faded plastic reindeer just right. You can see the faces of all you love gathered at the dinner table. Their faces are glowing in the light of the candles on the Advent wreath.

We’re in the season of Advent and it’s a time to take note of those who long to be home. It’s time to hear their voices and offer them a listening ear, an understanding heart, the patience of a saint to perhaps listen to a story of Christmas past you have heard many times before. It’s time to offer a tissue to catch the tear from the eye of a friend who longs for a loved one who has gone home.

Advent is about the promise that is coming. The promise that no matter what exile you find yourself in there will be rejoicing again. The light of Christ will break through the darkness.

I know a little a bit about being in exile.

This time last year I was longing to be home again in Vermont. I knew God had a plan for me. I knew God had ministry for me to do back home. I knew it. But God knew I also had some things to learn while away from home. I needed once again to trust in the darkness. I needed to wait for the rejoicing to come. I needed to continue loving God, worshipping God, seeking God, even when it seemed God had checked me off the “nice” list and was making sure I wouldn’t get my Christmas wish list fulfilled.

I was tempted to give up, give in. There were days in which I had to face the reality that perhaps I couldn’t go back home. Then, as it was to the children of Israel so long ago, their time of waiting ended. It was time to go home. God heard in the most unexpected ways and God led me back.

And here I now sit back at my farm table writing, in my role as “an accidental country pastor,” traveling country roads dotted with cows and back to the way of life that those in the little white church I once pastored invited me to be part of—a life filled with an unwavering hope in the future, no matter how dark the days get, because they have seen how God has never let the down.

As we begin our Advent journey, may you remember that God never lets you down either. God always hears the cries of those in exile and leads us back to the place in which we will once again find ourselves rejoicing.

Scripture to Reflect On

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called:  The Lord Our Righteous Savior.

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A candle of hope burns on the sill of my kitchen window.