As I write, I’m sitting in the waiting room of my kids’ pediatric dentist, trying to distract myself from picturing my five-year-old daughter under general anesthesia down the hall. To say my mama heart is aching is a massive understatement.

Brooklynn is getting her front tooth pulled out today because she bonked it on a concrete step 3 ½ years ago, but it only recently died and became infected. Even though my brave girl is thrilled to finally lose her first tooth, this mama is terrified to send my oldest babe back for such a major procedure alone.

The hardest part is knowing that when she wakes up, recovery is going to be hard. There is nothing worse than realizing I am powerless protect the one I love from discomfort and pain.

I’ll be honest, there are few places I hate more on earth than the dentist’s office. I know many wonderful humans who work tirelessly to make high-maintenance patients like me feel comfortable, but I just can’t help how anxiety builds when I’m trapped with my jaw open, trying not to gag while well-meaning strangers ask me questions and shove various apparatuses inside my mouth. I feel helpless and vulnerable, unable to fend off the discomfort I know is just part of the cleaning process.

Yet I also know that regular dental visits, unpleasant as they may be, are necessary to prevent more serious (and exponentially more painful) procedures down the road. There is simply no way to escape the thing I want to avoid—I can either face my discomfort or ignore it until pain eventually overwhelms me.

The fact is, pain is an unavoidable part of living. I can’t protect my sweet kiddos from it, and I can’t evade it myself. No one makes it through life without experiencing hurt on some level, no matter the source. It’s not a matter of if pain will come, but when.

Our response to pain—whether we ignore it, numb it, or face it bravely by getting the help we need—will affect how much it hurts and how long it will take to heal. Just because my kids don’t want me to touch their scrapes and cuts doesn’t mean I should listen to them. In fact, they’ve each experienced tender infections after refusing to allow me to clean and bandage their wounds.

If I’m honest, I do the same thing.

At my husband’s request, I finally visited the chiropractor for the very first time last week to address the debilitating back tension and headaches that had been plaguing me recently.  I was floored by the doctor’s analysis—between pinched nerves and immobile vertebrae and a spine, shoulders, and hips that are significantly out of alignment, he told me he was surprised I could walk normally without crippling pain.

It turns out I have a pretty high pain tolerance. I often ignore pain, working through it until I can no longer function. This gets me in trouble sometimes.

It’s easier for me pop a couple Tylenol and grunt my way through a headache than to make an appointment with a chiropractor who could fix the problem at it’s root instead of just medicating my symptoms.

It’s easier for me to raid the pantry or pour a glass of wine than to tell my husband I’m feeling sad and need him to listen to my potentially irrational feelings.

It’s easier for me to buy a new outfit I can’t afford than to look in the mirror and ask myself why I’m struggling to live content in my own skin.

It’s easier for me to pretend I’m strong enough to manage my life than to ask my friends for help or prayer when I feel overwhelmed and have nothing left to give.

It’s easier to look for a new house, a new job, or a new anything than to examine the deeper reasons for my perpetual state of discontent.

It’s easier to stay busy and say yes to every invitation than to risk allowing loneliness sneak in if I slow down enough for my heart to speak.

It always seems easier to ignore the pain that threatens to take over my life, but I’m actually only prolonging the hurt.

I’m finishing this post from home now, where my healthy little girl is resting and proudly admiring the newly acquired hole in the top of her smile. Even though I had worried and prayed all morning about all the potential complications her little body might encounter, thankfully the tooth came out with no issues.

I was not prepared, however, for the intensity of emotion we both experienced as Brooklynn woke up from anesthesia. I didn’t know that confusion and fear are normal and expected.

My heart pounded as I followed the hygienist down the hallway to a recovery room where I could hear my daughter wailing in panic. I ran into the darkened room and immediately wrapped my arms tightly around her terrified body, soothing my own fear as I held her close.

Brooklynn didn’t know where she was, but she kept grabbing frantically for my face. Looking into my eyes momentarily calmed her, until new waves of emotion hit with uncontrollable force. I held her in the dark, stroking her hair and rubbing her back for half an hour or more before she finally stopped crying. There was nothing else she needed but just to be held, to know she was safe, to hear me say I was with her and I wasn’t leaving. 

Sometimes sitting with someone else in their pain is harder than bearing our own. Yet, if we are willing to hold on, comfort is just a cry for help away.

Maybe the quickest way out of a heart that hurts isn’t to avoid pain, but to move bravely through it to the other side. Love gives us the courage to keep walking.

Mom and Dad doing our best to match Brooklynn’s excitement about getting her tooth out!
A post-dentist Unicorn Frappacino makes the most beautiful breakfast treat. (Plus, the straw fits nicely through her new smile-hole.)

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