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.

 

 

The Hallowed Halls of ‘Back Then’

It’s a humid and gloomy afternoon. The kind of afternoon in which you just want to sleep away, but I don’t dare pull the covers over my head. I have a sermon to write, to which I’m failing miserably at.

It seems my mind has a mind of its own. It doesn’t want to help me out in coming up with any eloquent prose on the significance of Jesus casting out many demons plaguing a man.I keep wondering why Jesus just didn’t vanquish the demons? Instead, he relocated them to live in a bunch of unsuspecting pigs who were, up to that point, enjoying life—as much as a pig can enjoy life before becoming a slab of bacon.

Can I really write a sermon sympathizing with the pigs? Probably not. I do love bacon. So I say to my mind, “Take me where you want to go.” It does so happily, taking me away from the here and now and into the hallowed halls of “back then,” where memories have the power to either sadden or gladden. I anticipate both happening. For the back then I go to is a country wedding taking place in a little white church five years ago this week.

I can see the sun shining brightly behind the soaring white steeple. Its rays have chased away all of the drizzle-filled clouds that had me, the bride-to-be, biting my manicured nails.

I can see the sanctuary graced with flowers from the gardens of all the dear women who insisted that flowers were needed in each of the windowsills of the old church. Right before the organ begins the first notes to the bridal procession, I smile with approval at one of the white-haired ladies smiling back at me.

This was one occasion I was glad she didn’t listen to me when I said we didn’t need flowers in the sanctuary. We did need them. I needed them. For they weren’t flowers bought from a florist, arranged in a stiff, artificial way. They were flowers collected with love from local fields and hills and gardens, gathered in bunches and placed in vases that have been hanging around the church for countless years. I bet those vases were happy to be out of the cupboards and once again part of a memory-making day.

I can see the many flower girls. They are a picture of perfection with their floral wreaths in their hair and their cream colored dresses tied with champagne-colored sashes. Perfection is fleeting though. Soon shoes come off, sashes untie and floral wreaths wilt as the girls play outside on the church lawn. In these hallowed halls of “back then” I spot a picture and stop and stare. Some of the girls are sitting on the wooden rail, with dirty bare feet telling of one fun afternoon. There’s that gladness mixed with sadness, as time has turned these girls into young ladies. That means, I too, have grown older.

I can see the tables in fellowship hall filled with homemade treats that would put to shame feasts typical at an Amish barn raising. I can see my mom and dad beaming with joy. I can see my husband’s parents smiling, with a tear or two. I can see the family of faith gathered who that day became more of a family than I had ever realized. I can see my sister and my new teenage daughter standing together as bridesmaids, bonding over all the stress I put them through in finding the right shade of antique pink for their dresses. And I can see the man God had waiting for me through all those years of heartache and loneliness. There he is standing at the front of the church, my friend, my partner, my love, waiting to begin life together.

I can see it all. And if I allow myself to enter more deeply into the hallowed halls of “back then,” I don’t only see. I can smell those flowers collected with lots of love. I can hear the flower girls laughing on the lawn of the church. I can feel my father’s hand as I grabbed it tightly to walk down the aisle with him. I can taste the rich vanilla in the wedding cake baked by a friend from a neighboring church. I can feel the hugs of all those who have journeyed with me. I can hear God whispering a promise I had often been deaf to.

I am with you…always.

I drift back to the gloomy here and now. I am gladdened and saddened. Where have the five years gone? I wonder about decisions made. Things I could have done differently and should have done differently. Words that should have been said and should have never been said. Dreams still being dreamed and hopes still being hoped. Home still waiting to wrap its arms around me and my husband.

My mind is not quite ready to focus on Jesus, demons or pigs, so I linger a bit more in the hallowed halls of back then, realizing I do so not to live in the past. I do so in order to gain strength for the future, to remember God who has done so much for me is not yet done with me. It’s to help me hear God’s whispered promise of being with me that I need to hear especially on these gloomy here and now kind of days.

flowergirls

A picture from the hallowed halls of “back then”…a country wedding in a little white church, where flower girls played all afternoon on the church lawn.