From the Dentist’s Chair

We had dentist appointments today. I don’t usually mind them. You know, it is what it is. Not comfortable, but necessary. Even the terrible stuff, like the wisdom teeth I have to get surgically removed sometime this year, is not generally a life-long trauma.

Other things are. I get that. But I learned something about pain and spiritual growth at the dentist’s office today.

Forced to have the orthodontia discussion in regard to my children (they are doomed – Dan and I both had braces), our dentist mentioned the Invisalign system that many patients ask him about.

Invisible sounds good, they say. Wireless sounds good, they say.

It won’t work, says my dentist.

The Invisalign system is a series of computer casted, clear retainers. The idea is that you wear one set for a certain amount of time and then after your teeth have shifted you switch to a new set. Sounds easy. But my dentist says the problem is patient cooperation.

Our natural reaction to pain is to get away from it. Run. Hide. Whatever. With Invisalign you have to be committed to the process and force yourself to wear the retainer even when your teeth hurt so bad you can’t chew your tacos.

Traditional braces are better, my dentist says, because you can’t get away from them. You can’t pop them in the drawer for a night of relief or a weekend break. They’re on. The pain is yours to deal with. And so they get the work done of transforming your smile into something straight and beautiful.

This excerpt is from John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted:

I was recently involved in a survey in which hundreds of people were asked to identify the factors that were most formative in their spiritual growth. The number one response overwhelmingly involved times of suffering and pain. Ironically, the role of suffering is one of the most neglected issues in spiritual growth, because we do not arrange for it to happen as we might Bible study or prayer. Instead, life inevitably arranges it for us. So if we are going to be transformed, we must look at how suffering benefits us, or at least how to respond to it.

Ortberg then shares a compelling account of Abraham’s life and how, while far from handling every instance of suffering or pain perfectly, he did endure. He hung on. He stayed in the conversation with God even when he didn’t understand.

And that seems to be all God asks. That we endure. That we persevere. We don’t have to do it with fireworks or with religious declarations.

In conclusion, Ortberg transitions to the story of Jesus, comparing it to Abraham’s suffering when asked to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice:

When Jesus was bound, no voice cried out to stay the ropes. When the blade went to pierce his body, no power held it back. This time, no other sacrifice was provided. This time, the Son died. This time, the Father grieved.

But then the third day came. As it will come someday for you and me. In the meanwhile, just don’t quit.

I guess what I learned today in the dentist’s chair is that life sometimes gives us braces and that’s OK. If life gave us Invisalign, we’d probably take off the suffering, put off the pain for another day when we don’t have anything else going on. But God isn’t asking us to pretend those braces don’t hurt. He knows He can get us through. He knows in the end He can make it better.

He can make it straight.

Dream Year Weekend Report

If you want to know what it was like at the Dream Year Weekend Retreat, you should imagine yourself looking over your list of dreams while one of the tough reality TV fitness trainers stands over your head and yells, “Well, do you want it or not?!” Then throw in some great conversations with fantastic people, a charming location, and energizing guest speakers, and you’ll have the idea. I loved it.

Ben Arment is a genuine leader who believes in you more than you believe in yourself, and he talks to the side of you that isn’t getting things done, the side of you that sits around banking on your natural talents or charisma but never putting in the work or discipline needed for you to really do something great. He’s the kind of guy you want on your side. He’ll be your Coach Taylor if you want him to.

(Don’t tell him I said it that way because that’s a Friday Night Lights reference and I’m not allowed to watch TV anymore. If I want to be a producer, I have to stop spending all my free time consuming.)

But if I’m making Ben sound mean, then you are only hearing the sarcasm and not the truth. This Dream Year program is what you are looking for if you are ready to start living a new and exciting (albeit risky and difficult) story. As Donald Miller points out in his Let Story Guide You DVD, “You don’t even have to win for it to be a good story, you just have to give it everything you’ve got.”

Dan and I came away from the weekend with full hearts and renewed determination. Full hearts because we met amazing new people that we know could be real friends if we get a chance to pursue the relationship. And determination to stop living off our potential and create unique products: songs, articles, book drafts, albums. The only thing keeping me from creating is me. And I’m getting myself out of the way.

On a more personal note, while Dan is ready to dive into his songwriting and performing, I also realized a deeper desire in my heart than even books or career. The four little people who stayed home with Grandma were in my thoughts all weekend. I listened during the Saturday morning sessions, but I kept one eye on my phone for updates from Jesse’s basketball game. During the Sunday morning church service I was thinking how much Ada would enjoy looking around the room at all the beautiful girls in make-up and designer clothes. On the drive home we had planned to take our time and eat a nice dinner near St. Louis, but a text early in the afternoon informed me that Macy had a high fever. Our stops after that point were only a few minutes long – I needed to get HOME!

These little people are a pretty big part of my dream. When I first met and fell in love with Dan I told my Mom, “If I marry that guy, he can take over all this worship leading and I can stay h0me and have babies.” I really love seeing this part of my dream coming true. I’m going to put in the work for those other things, too, because someday these babies will be out pursuing their own dreams, but right now, my dreams are right in front of me!

Also, if you see him, let Ben know I’m giving up my football watching in two weeks (after the Super Bowl). And I’m going to stay clean for at least six months. That should do it. After that, I cannot resist the pleas of my first dream, Jesse Daniel, asking me to play fantasy football and stay up late on Monday nights. It’s the work I have to do for my dream. : )

Beauty and Beasts

Look at this lovely girl of mine. I sometimes just gaze at her while she is enthusiastically telling me about the soap opera that is first grade and marvel at her wit and spirit. This picture was taken at her very first piano recital in December.

But here’s the negative turn in this post: for a little over a week now, we’ve been fighting a lice infestation in that beautiful head. Crazy isn’t it? That beautiful hair and yet full of beastly little parasites. (Don’t fear for Ada’s feelings here. Either she’s too young or too self-confident, but she has no idea of the social stigma related to head lice. She just hates sitting still for hours while I scrape out nits with a tiny plastic comb.)

In my own little world, I’m looking forward to an exciting road trip and retreat weekend with my husband. We’re headed to the Dream Year Retreat in Nashville. Two different times this week I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t turn over and go back to sleep as I usually do because I suddenly remembered, “I’m going on a trip!” Big smiles. I love travel and I especially love travel with my husband to a new city. Add to those simple pleasures the promised encouragement and instruction we’re expecting from the retreat itself and I’m THRILLED.

A gorgeous head of hair.

But other things are happening this week. Today Serenity wrote about finally losing her hair. And I hate that. All of it. The losing, the crying, the sickness, the worry. All of it. I want to make it go away and I want her to be cancer-free and I want her boys to think about things like basketball and dinosaurs. I want to fix it. But I can’t.

Stupid lice.

But this is life and I know that hair stays (or comes back) and the lice die. And I probably appreciate that beautiful head of hair on Ada now more than ever since I’ve spent so much time trying to save it. I know I can’t spend this weekend wishing my life away or pouting about life’s injustices. I know I have to enjoy my time, relish every moment.

This is life – with its beauty and its beasts.

I’m Back! I Missed You!

Let’s hug!

Check out my new setting! Isn’t it sweet? My husband, Dan the Man, did all this remodeling work. He’s amazing. We’ll be tweaking and adding for a few more days, I expect, but this is the new general look. I’m very happy with it.

If you’re part of the Rare Rocks regulars, then you’ll find things fairly unchanged. All the posts from a particular category are a little easier to find now – see the nifty pictures on the right side bar. New posts will automatically be here, at the top of this home page.

I’m so happy you stopped by! If you feel like being brave in the comments section today, do me a favor and let me know what you like to read here. I’m teaching a speech class this semester and we’re learning about audience analysis. Consider yourself being officially analyzed.

What are your needs or wants, reader friend?
I’m not good at Hollywood commentary like Serenity is, and I can’t tell you anything about cloth diapers for your newborn. Grandparenting and pastoring aren’t in my repertoire yet either. I know there are a million places online where you can read about important things, but I’d love to share conversations with you about becoming better people here. I like to read about characters (real or imagined) who make us all want to be stronger just from watching them live well. I like to examine virtues and try them out, even in small ways. And since my family is my setting, I talk about them a lot. They’re cute; you won’t mind. I’ll try not to sound preachy or pretentious if you promise to forgive me when I do (it happens – I’m a true first born).

I just like you and I think we can be special. Rare Rocks, so to speak. What should we talk about? : )

Some Thoughts on Hair . . .

Last week my sisters and my mom and I got haircuts. Short hair for all! Serenity is starting chemotherapy today and the rest of us just wanted to do something physical to show our solidarity and hopefully remind others to pray.

I love the ease of short hair. In fact, I keep wondering why, with all our green inclinations and earth-saving campaigns, our culture has not embraced short hair for women as a logical conclusion. Saves water, saves money, saves power (hair dryers, flat irons, and their kind), saves chemicals (less to highlight, strip, straighten, condition, etc.). Do the true-green among us wear their hair short? Or am I missing something?

Yet for something that makes so much sense, I still get so many comments, especially from other women, such as, “Wow. You look great. I could never pull that off.” Or, just as common, “My husband would never let me do that.”

I’m still a bit taken back by these comments. I’m not bothered by them personally, but I enjoy cultural observations and this one is rife with possibility. The comments themselves probably stand out to me a little more acutely right now because I chose to cut my hair this time for a specific purpose: to support my sister who will likely loose all her hair in the next two weeks. I mean, if you had to choose between being bald or dying, I’m guessing you’d choose bald and everyone around you would be fine with it. Could our attitude about hair tell us anything about our lack of eternal perspective? I’m always reminded of my own vanity when I have short hair – there seems to be no way around it, you wake up looking like a boy every morning – but this time around I’ve really been aware of the cultural/social elements as well.

I mean, it is just hair. But I’m guessing it is more. What I’m wondering is if it is good more or bad more? Or, hm, that’s interesting more? I don’t know yet. But I’m watching, listening, and learning.

In the meantime, best of luck, Seren! Here’s to praying that everything goes better than anyone expects.