I've been having some issues with my teeth lately. Today I ate a cake pop at break and then popped back in my teeth before flossing. Big mistake. During the assembly, a colleague looked at me and said, "Um...you have some chocolate inside your Invisalign." Sure enough, I took them out to discover a thick layer of chocolate smeared across the front two teeth. Wonderful.
During the past two weeks when I've been eating, my top lip has been getting caught in a gap in my teeth. It's embarrassing. It kinda hurts and I have to stop talking and use my hand to physically "unstuck" my lip from my teeth. This never used to happen. But because of my "adult braces", my teeth have been shifting and where there used to be over-crowding and over-lapping teeth, now there are hill-billy gaps. Double wonderful.
Here's the crazy part. When they first took a mold of my teeth, this computer figured out exactly where and when and how my teeth would move. It knew exactly where all the gaps would be and where there wouldn't be enough space for teeth to move. So this computer knew that after exactly 7 months, I would need more space on my bottom row between two certain teeth. Not only that, it knew that I would need something like .06 millimeters of space between those teeth so my orthodontist merely had to get a sanding tool and sand away exactly .06 millimeters. Neat, huh?
Recently I visited the ortho, and as I awkwardly laid back in the plastic-covered chair, my mind went in a million directions. Well, not actually a million. More like three. First, I wondered about where to look. Then I tried not to grimace when Dr. Such-and-such accidentally sanded my lip making me bleed. I thought about saying something but decided not to because (A) I'm a chicken and (B) I couldn't talk at the moment since he had a power tool in my mouth. Plus, what would I say? "Excuse me, sir? I think you're sanding off my part of my face by accident. Can you please wipe up that blood running down my chin?" In this midst of this thought-process, I also about how God is like the magic computer.
He knows exactly how things will unfold in my life and exactly when. He knows when there will be "gap moments" when my lip will get stuck in my teeth and life will be a bit "uncomfortable"- when things won't "line up" perfectly like I think they should.
But He also knows that these gaps and seasons in life when His plans are still in progress and the end result is still unknown, are seasons that are completely necessary. In order to attain that "perfect smile," my teeth have to move and change and the gaps have to be there for a temporary amount of time. So I don't really mind the gaps in my teeth. In my life however,...I get a little bit antsy. "Come on, God. What's next? What are you preparing me for? You should probably close this gap up about now."
In this analogy, the gaps are created to enable the "future perfect smile" I'm paying the big bucks for. But in life, I'm not striving for a "perfect future." No, I'm striving for righteousness. And God is working and moving in my life to help transform me into the person He created me to be- not to give me everything I want or think I need since I don't even know what's best for me. Heck, I'm no magic computer- I don't know how my teeth need to shift. Only He does. Just as I trust the computer to know how and where and when change needs to take place, I need to be trusting God with the same things.
God knows when there will be seasons of "gaps" in my life and He also knows when there will be too much "crowding on the bottom row" and He'll need to intervene to create more space. Sometimes the ortho will pull a whole tooth to create the space but luckily, I already had a rotten one pulled and only need small amounts of space. Yes I know- it's very hill-billy of me. So I've had several teeth sanded and "slenderized" which is an uncomfortable process and makes me feel like my teeth were overweight.
This slenderizing is necessary in life as well. God takes that sander and sands away a little selfishness here, a little pride over there and creates the necessary room for me to grow. Unlike my orthodontist, He makes no mistakes. And like the unsightly gaps where giant chunks of apple like to get lodged, this sanding process is necessary for the perfect smile and for me to become more like Jesus.
Instead of a literal sander, God may use conviction, a trial, or a lesson to shave off something in my life that isn't pleasing to Him. But this conviction, trial, or lesson will come exactly when I need it. And it will only last as long as I need it. At times, He allows for exactly .06 millimeters of sanding in my life. No more. No less. He knows what I can handle and just what I need in order to move and change and become more like Him.
Just as the computer knew that after 3 weeks, 2 months, then 7 months, I would need sanding here, here, and here, God looks at my life and knows exactly when I'll need to learn certain things, struggle in certain ways, and endure certain trials. Just like my teeth moving, I can know that these periods are necessary, temporary, and coming at the exact time and exact strength that are needed to transform me to be more like Jesus. They are not random; nor are they arbitrary seasons of change or growth. And it's pretty dang comforting to realize my smile in His hands; my life is under His control.
And on the flip side, He also knows exactly when I'm ready to receive the good things in life, not just the gaps and the sanding. He knows when I'll need encouragement and reminders and He sends those in a multitude of ways. Lately, He's been sending them through my students.
It's no secret that I often wonder why God has me working at Valley. Don't get me wrong; I love my job. But it's pretty easy. I work with middle to upper class kids whose only discipline issues are tardies and copying homework. Gone are the days of teaching in a public school when kids walked into class without shirts or started fights when learning about Imperialism because, "that a$#hole won't sign my f$&king treaty!" I had a legit colonial war on my hands. It was kind of awesome.
Gone are the days of teaching in Mozambique when potential muggers would try to follow me home, when class would be cancelled due to rioting, and homework wasn't finished because the power was out in the whole city.
I loved the challenges that teaching in the public schools and a third world nation brought. And though I am so very grateful for my job at Valley, I often look around my little classroom and ask, "Why, God? How much longer do you want me here? How much longer will this 'gap' be in my teeth? I feel like I'm made for tougher stuff."
He first spoke through a group of three girls who brought me a present. These three went on the missions trip to Zuni but before the trip, they brought to my room this canvas they had made for me:
I waited till they left to cry.
God knew I needed to be reminded that I'm here right now for a reason. Some days I don't feel like I'm making an impact for the kingdom as I teach rich kids about gerund phrases and comma splices, but maybe I am. Cause these kids are going on mission trips to third world nations and are serving the poor when I can't. They're growing up and I get to play a crucial role in their lives, shaping how they think and view the world. And I'd like to think that maybe me talking about Mozambique and other nations has opened some of their eyes a bit wider. Maybe that's why I'm here right now.
This canvas hangs in my room as a reminder that though I'm not serving in Africa and though my job is sometimes a piece of cake, what I do is important- because pointing kids in the right direction is an important job.
The second reminder came yesterday. During lunch devotions, I was talking to my freshmen girls about how the safest place to be in the world is in the center of God's will. I told them how when I was 20, I quoted this line from my pastor when I told my mom that I felt God might be calling me to Palestine after college. She was not amused.
But after I said that, one girl raised her hand and said, "I don't mean this to sound the wrong way, Miss Hardeman, but why are you here?"
She motioned to all the flags I have displayed around the room and continued, "I mean, you love other nations. So why are you still at Valley and in America?"
My sister is reading this right now and is furious with this sweet lil freshman girl. But I found that my response was natural and it was good for me to have to vocalize the answer to this question that often plagues my subconscious. My response?
"You know what, I ask God that question about once a week. He doesn't always answer but He does make it clear that for whatever reason, He wants me here right now. So I'm staying."
Because again, I'm no magic computer. I can't see the big picture like He does. I don't know what this season of life is preparing me for, but I trust that my God is good and has it under control. And as long as I continue to seek His will daily, He'll make it clear when change is necessary. Paul says exactly this when he writes in Romans, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)
Ironically, the reason it is so hard for me to stay is because my life is so easy. I want more of a challenge. But I am confident that this "easy stage" is a "gap stage"- one that is necessary and temporary. I don't know how long it will last but I will be obedient and stay until He says move. And I will smile big and laugh hard and thoroughly enjoy this stage- confident that He is working in me and His plans are unfolding at just the right time.