Sunday, May 28, 2006

The healing process

I injured my jaw in December. No, it wasn’t a rough hockey game or a tragic skiing accident. It was a vicious bowl of tortilla chips.

One of my weird family inheritances is loose joints. It can come in pretty handy as a party trick and, despite some bad dislocations through the years, I’ve never broken a bone—the joint gives way before the bone. It seems to afflict different joints at different times and for the last several years, the right side of my jaw has been the problem area. It had gotten so bad last fall, my jaw would literally just fall out of joint while I was sleeping and it would pop out when I ate crusty bread or kettle-cooked chips (yum!) or, yes, tortilla chips. I was waiting for a friend at a Mexican restaurant and, though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t help but chow down on the chips. Sure enough, out it came. But this time it wouldn’t pop back in!

OK, this had never happened before! After two weeks of pain and a jaw that would barely move, I went to the doctor, got x-rays, and talked to an oral surgeon. The bone was back in joint, but the joint was damaged. It would heal on its own with time, but it was also likely to be reinjured frequently while it was healing since it’s a joint that gets used all the time. The best way to let it heal fast was to go on a soft food diet, which—yeah—was not happening, so I chose the slower healing process.

So six months later, I realized last week that I could yawn—really yawn big—without pain. What a feeling!

In the shower next morning, I yawned. No biggie, right? Wrong! I felt everything in my right jaw joint grind together and I grabbed my jaw in pain. I saw the previous six months flash before the eyes of my stomach—no more hamburgers, no more kettle chips, no more loaded corned beef and coleslaw sandwiches from J.P.’s.

But as the day wore on, I realized that while my jaw was a little sore, the new injury was not as bad as I had feared. The healing process was far enough along that what could have been a major setback was instead a minor inconvenience.

And then I thought about the other hurts we carry around. Those places in our hearts where we are flexible and feel good until one day, out of nowhere, wham! It hurts, sometimes excruciatingly; sometimes it’s crippling. We have to learn how to open up again, and gradually we begin to feel joy again where they had been only pain. But there can still be setbacks, new hurts that wound us in the same place. When that happens, there is a temptation to let the fear of the old hurt magnify the new hurt and to become paralyzed in that fear. But sometimes, there is a surprise. The new hurt that we so fear turns out to not be so bad. We have grown and healed and that place that used to be so raw and tender has toughened up and can withstand this new stress.

This is part of God’s design—for our bodies and our hearts.

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