With just weeks to go before a mission trip to Africa, my hair began falling out. Not in scary clumps, just too many strands while shampooing and conditioning. Soon enough everywhere I looked, I found my hair. At one point the vacuum cleaner started making strange noises. I unplugged it, flipped it over and realized the roller was wearing a soft coat of my long blond hair. I had barely noticed it at first, but now I was seeing my hair outside on the lawn chair where I was sitting, in the car, people were pulling strands off my back. And it was leaving twisted blond nests in the shower drain.
Then worst of all, I woke up one morning to an aching tooth. Because I've never had any serious dental problems or work needed, and it was so throbbing so much, I just knew I needed my first ever root canal. Earlier in the year we had decided to switch from our beloved dentist of 16 years to a dental office 35 minutes closer, just a five minute ride from our home. When I got into the office to see the new dentist, not just one, but both of them were at a loss as to what was causing the deep throbbing. An x-ray showed nothing, all the teeth in that area were healthy and alive, both dentists stared at my mouth and dismissed one idea after another. They offered to take out an old filling and replace it, but the cold air test showed no sensitivity, and they were not at all certain this would solve anything. They had no guarantee it would cause the throbbing to go away. Their schedule was fully overbooked so, she put me on an emergency list to have it done if I decided to, and if someone canceled. Their parting gift was a mouth guard to mold to my mouth and wear at night. They decided it had to be clenching and grinding due to stress.
I had two weeks till I got on a plane to head to Uganda. That night I laid awake wearing a mouth guard, with a throbbing lower jaw and tears rolling down my cheeks from deep anxiety. I did not like this new state I seemed to be stuck in. I couldn't seem to shake off whatever had a hold of me. I was praying every hour for a healing or at least an answer to solve the throbbing -- even if it was painful to go through. The next morning I called my old dentist to see if he had time to share a second opinion. Their office answering machine said they were on vacation for the next four days. Just my luck. Naturally, when they were back in the office, they saw me first thing. Again, two more dentists looked at old x-rays, took new panaramic sets, and stared, searching for something that might cause this deep ache. They conferred and finally agreed, there was nothing that either of them could see causing a problem. He talked me out of having the tooth refilled. At a loss for what to do, he wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication to get me through the few weeks I'd be away from home in a third world country, just in case it got worse. They were fairly certain altitude wouldn't affect the pain. His office assistant showed me how to cut my mouth guard smaller, so I couldn't even slide my back teeth on it at night. They told me to keep on a regimen of ibuprofen 3 times a day for the next week. I wanted to cry because none of this seemed novel-- I was looking for new plan that sorted it all out neatly and put an end to it shortly. In fact, coupled with everything I'd been through in the past 20 days, this all seemed over the top... an ache a dentist couldn't help? I decided that if there was a purgatory, this is what it would feel like. My days were filled with Simon's doctor and physical therapy appointments. My nights were filled with anxious wakefulness.
Months before, my parents had planned out a week-long vacation in the picturesque mountains of Georgia to celebrate their wedding reunion. We would return from Georgia and my seventeen year old son Jackson and I would have four days to do laundry, run last minute errands, and repack before we boarded a plane for the 24 hour trip. I desperately wanted to be wildly excited about it like my teammates. While packing for Georgia and for Africa, I began to sense an even deeper well of dread. I'm normally a positive, "glass is half full" type of person. That upbeat personality was ebbing away and I felt like I was grasping air when I tried to pull it back on like a comfortable cloak. I was literally praying around the clock, for everything, for everyone. I began creating A Faithful Word board on Pinterest as a specific gathering place for Bible verses to keep me grounded. There was nothing more calming than to scroll through and read or add to this board I'd made of beautiful typography to calm and soothe my weary soul. Especially when I was up in the middle of the night.
Our Georgia mountain resort vacation was going to be a week long Saturday-to-Saturday trip. Jeff and I had been talking to Simon's surgeon about traveling nine hours away just 18 days after major knee surgery. Both he and the physical therapy office loaded us full of supplies and plans for every imaginable scenario. Simon was definitely looking forward to getting away from the four walls in our family room. A resort, even in a wheel chair, sounded absolutely fabulous. He had finished all the serious pain pills, was looking more like his old self and had even begun lifting dumbbells and doing crunches in bed. My mouth was doable with the ibuprofen regimen, though it continued to cause a constant nagging sensation. I had just finished setting up a plan with a church member who orchestrated homemade delivered meals. We agreed three dinners a week would make Jeff's life easier at home working and caring for Simon and Ashleigh while Jackson and I were in Uganda. Next was a plan to help our youngest, Ashleigh, feel more confident about starting middle school while I was away the first two weeks. It involved time to talk, a quick shopping trip for some clothing updates and school supplies, a notebook full of outfit plans, a clean organized room, a couple of new Pinterest boards including Dear Ashleigh just for her to look at while I was away. I hoped all of these would boost her confidence about a new school, new teachers, lockers and locker combinations, and changing clothes for PE. I also knew she was worried something might happen to us while we were halfway around the world. All I could do was teach her by example that I felt strongly called for this trip, and the good Lord had even moved my heart to let Jackson pay his way to come along on this life changing adventure.
When the phone rang at 4 pm that Thursday, I saw it was Jeff, so I grabbed a notebook I had been jotting "To Do" and "Don't Forget" lists in, I just knew there was something else he wanted me to write down! I was humming with extremely organized checklists these days. Instead of his hearty, "Hey!," I heard a voice that was flat and quiet. I couldn't understand what he was saying at first. I wasn't even sure if it was Jeff I was talking to. I motioned for the kids to stop talking so loudly and walked outside onto our screened porch. What was he saying? Something about coming home early, something about leaving now... something about being laid off.