what He does
Afternoon, and I give thanks that I am sitting alone in the waiting room at the pediatric dental office, because this gratitude always comes fresh. I never forget the difference between now and then, those days when I held my tears because of his, when it took three people just to clean his teeth. They used to put us in the baby room with the plastic kitchen and the wilted stuffed animals, and I used to stretch my body over the length of him while he screamed. And still, we needed an extra hygenist to hold the one free arm I just couldn’t keep pinned beneath the weight of me. It was an impossible time.
I’ll never forget the look on Adam’s face—sheer terror blended with a full measure of disbelief, that I, his mother, would allow them to torture him, would help them do it. That look ripped through me; I carried it, heavy. I remember the metal contraption they put in his mouth to keep it open, cranked wide against his will. I remember the way his body felt beneath my own—the muted thrashing, like a scream stopped by my hand, like a protest against the unredeemable. Please, how could you, how could you, how could you, his eyes flashed, and tears soaoked his cheeks and my clothes, and I wondered if he would ever be able to manage it.
We had to hospitalize and anesthetize our son to have his cavities filled, and at the same time, the dentist sealed his six-year molars and took x-rays. She knew they’d never be able to accomplish any of that while Adam was awake and terrified. Those days, we had a short list of foods Adam would eat, because he was afraid of the feel of certain textures on his tongue, as though the wealth of sensation brought him pain. Dental visits amounted to violation.
But today, I sit alone in the waiting room, giving thanks. Because God can redeem anything.
These days, when the hygenist comes out, Adam stands up with the girls and walks back on his own, and the only thing he wants to know is, How long?
He stops the hygenist in the doorway, looking at his watch, tilting his head the way he does when he’s trying to listen carefully, trying to sort out words from the wealth of information in the room. “Until…“Adam says, leading her. When she doesn’t answer right away, he looks at me. “It’s time to go home,” he says. But I ignore this, looking past him to the hygenist.
“I’m sorry, he wants to know how long it will take.” I offer a time, a question, generously adding on a half hour more than I think it will take them to examine his teeth.
She looks at her watch. “Well, they have x-rays today, so…” She wobbles her head back and forth, considering. X-rays. Adam hasn’t had xrays since the hospital. It’s uncomfortable, and no one can go in with him, and they don’t tell him how long to “stay like this.” I have coached them on this, but I haven’t been able to convince them that they need to be specific. I don’t have high hopes for x-rays. Usually, the hygenist shrugs at the end, and says, “Well, we tried, but,” and we all agree to try again the next time. Today, she agrees that my suggested finish time will likely work, and Adam nods, satisfied. I chuckle, watching him disappear through the door, the bony shoulders, the long legs. The hygenist doesn’t understand that she has committed to a contract.
From time to time, sitting in that chair in the waiting room, I hear Adam squeal, and I lift my eyes toward the door, away from my computer and my work. But it’s only the sound of mild disapproval that has replaced the terror of years ago. He still struggles, sometimes audibly, most often trying to convince the hygenist that she is actually finished. And they still have a note on his chart about the sticky flouride, because it used to make him gag. But I’m sitting out here, and he’s back there, and he has enough words now not even to need the communication book we used to carry, the first thing that eased his fear, the first way they used to tell him what they were doing, what they needed from him. Sometimes, when we’re all wrapped up with impossible, progress seems like such an empty promise. I’d like to go back now and tell that emptied, carved out shell of me gathering bags in her sore arms that there’s always room for hope, because nothing is impossible for God. I used to leave these appointments with my heart full of questions and heavy doubt—How will I ever keep doing this?
A click, and the hygenist appears, motioning for me to join her in the back. “Adam’s twelve-year molars are in,” she tells me as we walk down the hall, “and we’ll need to seal those. We can do those right now, if you want to. We got xrays today, and–”
“You got xrays today? You did get them,” I clarify, as we walk through the door and the dentist looks up from Zoe’s teeth and smiles, and Riley grins at me from where’s she sits in a chair by the window. From one of the exam chairs, Adam cranes his neck to see me. He wears black sunglasses, and I wonder if that’s just something for him, until I notice Zoe’s orange ones, a little too small.
“Yes,” the hygenist says, smiling. “He did well.” Yes? Yes?
And I think maybe I will fall down, washed over by a grateful wave. This means he understood, I’m thinking. This means he managed patience with his discomfort. This means he “stayed like this,” and waited. I cannot explain what God accomplishes.
“So, do you want us to go ahead and seal his molars?” She asks, and I hesitate, remembering.
But Adam lays patiently in that exam chair, touching the red vinyl with his fingers, flicking glances at his watch, and I see that we still have plenty of time.
“Sure,” I say, and the hygenist tells me, motioning with her hand, that I can just sit in the chair beside Riley and watch. And just briefly, I see myself stretched out, covering over the length of him, singing soft songs into his ears while he screams.
The hygenist tells Adam that she will “paint” his teeth, and then she slides that ugly metal tool into his mouth to keep it open, resting it lightly against his cheek. He hates that thing. But this time it’s loose, only just sitting easy.
“Why did she put that in Adam’s mouth?” Riley asks bluntly, and I explain that sometimes Adam has a hard time remembering to keep his mouth open.
“Well, actually, I just put that in there because it’s hard to keep your mouth open as long as he will need to for the sealant,” she says to me. “It’s just to help him.”
And almost in reply, Adam reaches up and removes it, handing it back to her.
“Trust me, mister,” she says to him, laughing, pressing her hand lightly over Adam’s shoulder as she replaces it. “Leave your hands by your sides, please.”
Leave your hands by your sides, please. I watch Adam, waiting, remembering the years gone by, the terror in his eyes, the screaming, the feel of him thrashing beneath me. But today, today in the shadow of that old fear, he lifts his legs just a little and crams his own hands underneath, as though he can’t trust himself unless, and then he settles his head back against the chair to wait. Did he really just do that? Everything goes blurry with my mom-tears, and I swallow hard because no one could possibly understand. I am suddenly overwhelmed by gratitude, breath-robbed by possibility. I gasp at a full glimpse of redemption.
Never, never, never give up–It settles somewhere deep, resting, a treasure for another impossible time. Whenever I feel weary with the so hard, I will take out the glinting gem—those long-fingered hands self-crammed beneath his legs–and examine it closely. I will grip the wealth of it in my hands until they’re sweaty. I will plant this precious stone in the heart of our living as a memorial, a glimpse of the Glory of a great King whose power obliterates can never be.
It’s what He does.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord
tell their story–(Psalm 107:2)”