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.

 

 

Second Sunday in Lent

Let us worship together on this the second Sunday in Lent as you join me at one of my favorite places to sit and reflect here at the Old Stone Well Farm.

Enjoy and share with friends, for truly when two or more gathered, God is in the midst doing amazing things.

Now is the time to be bold in our faith and to reach out to one another in prayer.

Happy Lenten Journeying!

Pastor Donna 

 

 

The Sheep and the Shepherd

 

The other morning, I went to visit my sheep. Well, they’re not exactly mine. They belong to the farm and nature center just up the road from me.

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Pastor Donna’s “foster” sheep that she often visits and talks to. Notice the stream of light shining down on one of them.

I’ve always wanted sheep. And goats. And chickens. And…

Well, the other morning I went to visit the sheep. They live in a place where my heart always finds peace after being torn and tattered by the world. It’s a place where I can take a deep breath in and allow my lungs to savor the clean air. It’s a place where the rolling hills and mountains make me want to do my best Julie Andrew’s impersonation where I run in an open field, spinning around with arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive…”

Being of Swiss heritage, this is something my family always does whenever we find ourselves in an open field surrounded by mountains. And now that I have put that song in your head, my apologies. Let me get back to the story at hand.

The other morning, I didn’t just go to visit them. I went to have a talk with them. I needed to know something. I needed to know how it was they could easily follow their master? How did they know that the one in charge of them was indeed caring for them? How did they not worry or fret or wander off to what might look like greener pastures?

How?

I needed to know, for lately I have been wondering how best to follow my Lord and Savior, my Shepherd. I wonder why I have been lured at times by seemingly greener pastures that have proven to be nothing but stale tasting artificial turf filled with empty calories? I hate empty calories.

How do I get back to the real stuff, the green pastures that are life giving and life renewing? How do I stop doubting my Shepherd’s great care of me? And how do I get back home to the fold, where my heart can always find peace in the midst of the storms?

How?

The sheep were very kind to me, entertaining my rambling questions as they tried to chew their breakfast. Every so often, one would look at me as if to say, “Continue on. I’m listening.” Other times, they would look at each other as if to say, “Are you going to answer her or do I have to?”

When I was done with my questions, I sat down in the grass and waited for one of them to answer. Nothing came. The sheep just kept chewing away at their breakfast. I had my breakfast with me too. A warm buttery, crumbly maple scone purchased at the quintessential Vermont country store that my husband and I loved to go. It was a place where the wooden floors gave their age away with each creak of the boards and where the sun streaming through the windows made the dust dance and sparkle in the streams of its rays.

A place where a warm hello always greeted you, followed by small talk about the weather and what kind of winter the Farmer’s Almanac was already predicting.

But I wasn’t hungry anymore for my maple scone. I was hungry for answers. I picked at the scone and as I did the frustration of the silence all around me brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps yet another day without answers was going to join in an already growing long line of days without answers.

I got up to leave. As I did, though, the littlest lamb came running over to me. Its bleating was urgent. It had something to say. It bleated some more and kept jerking its head toward the blue sky above. I heeded the little lamb’s instructions and looked up in the direction it was pointing. There overhead was a cloud whose formation had taken the shape of blobby looking heart.

Well, I’ll be…the little lamb gave me my answer.

How did they trust the One caring for them? How did they know to follow the One whose leading is always heading towards green pastures?

By not keeping their head hung down low with defeat and despair and doubt, but by always looking up. By knowing they are loved beyond love and that love is the only thing that keeps them, protects them, guides them, sustains them…it’s a love that promises to always bring you safely home.

I had a talk with my sheep the other day.

Turns out, our Shepherd was there as well.

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