I'm sitting in bed with a swollen cheek and bag of frozen corn against my face. Instead of leading writing group this morning at Miriam's, I sat in an endodontist's chair looking up at patterned wallpaper as he leaned full-weight against the tool in my mouth. Since I'd forgotten headphones to drown out the sounds of drill and scraping, I had him give me a play-by-play narration of what he was doing, and I still can't picture it.
There's no pain quite like a toothache -- dull aching deep in the face. One morning when I woke up, it hurt into my eye. It's a helpless feeling, a tooth ache.
In Costa Mesa, our friends who were homeless had toothaches from time to time and several teeth missing all together. Here in DC there are some amazing dental services, but there there really weren't, and as the doctor tugged stitches into my gum, I couldn't help being grateful that the infection was out of my mouth.
Today, my throbbing jaw is trumping the rest of what I've nearly sat down to write about day after day: our house filled to the brim with visiting family (13 kids!), the lice left behind, the combing and sheet-washing that ensued, the saran-wrapped slabs of Christmas cookie dough in the fridge, my sister and Ben playing guitar and piano together belting out Christmas carols and "Radioactive," gifts of presence more than presents, and the sun that soaked everything pure gold this morning as I drove empty roads to the endodontist with my mom.
Christmas, with all of its planning and countdown, often ends somehow differently than we'd expected -- whether it's someone's reaction to a gift, or an expectation of something we'd receive, or hopes we didn't know we were sitting on, or the general deflation of the season's sudden end.
This year, I didn't expect to need my sister to come over and systematically comb through every piece of my possibly lice-infested hair, dry winter-scalp and all, several days in a row as we watched a bad movie or talked hoping the comb would come out clean. I didn't expect Silas's glassy-eyed fevers nor our having to miss Christmas Eve Chinese food dinner, didn't expect time for just the two of us to snuggle in my bed reading Harry Potter nor for Ben to face time us so we could watch the cousins open their cousin presents. I didn't expect a day in bed all day today nor my jaw throbbing enough to make left over dumplings hard to chew. Nor did I expect my mom to walk in with a vanilla milkshake nor Silas to grab my hand and pray for my surgery this morning before I left the house.
What I keep thinking is how all of this embodies the whole point of Christmas, and all of our need -- Christmas: a steadiness come to Earth to sustain us as our circumstances change and buck our expectations. It's a celebration of Immanuel, literally translated "with us is God."
As we live steeped in our own expectations, may we all learn more and more about this.