When I was in high school, I got my two front teeth punched right out of my face.
Ok, that’s not true. But for a few days, I looked like it. I walked around with a huge chunk chipped right out of my two front teeth. As a senior in high school, it was not fun. Although it could have been worse.
Here’s what happened, and why now, at 35, this story is significant.
I ran cross-country all through high school, and each summer, our conditioning started in June. That basically meant we had summer practices. While these were super hot and super exhausting, one thing we always looked forward to was cross-country camp. This was when our team would pack up for three days and head to McCormick’s Creek to stay in a cabin and do two-a-day practices on the trails in the park.
That meant we had two practices a day in a state park, and the rest of the time we could basically do whatever we wanted.
(You guys, the stories I have from these days are precious and amazing and hysterical and include karaoke tournaments and midnight hikes to the creek and so much binging on food. We had no cell phones at this time. Those were some good days before every tiny thing was documented on social media!) Anyways, I digress.
It was the summer of 1998. It was Ultimate Frisbee day, one of our favorite days of camp. I loved this game. So. Much. And I was ruthless. Our coach played right along with us. And he was just as ruthless.
So ruthless, in fact, that he was passing the frisbee to me and whipped it so hard that it hit me right in the front teeth before I could put out my arms to catch it.
I don’t even have a picture of it, sadly. I wish I did. But I had a huge chunk missing right out of my two front teeth for the rest of camp. We went into town for dinner twice that week and to the store for groceries, and I had to make sure I didn’t show my teeth. Every time I talked, my friends all giggled at me. I was mortified, and I wished I could get it fixed right away. But I was stuck with my chipped teeth until I got home and could make an appointment with my dentist.
I can’t remember how the dentist even fixed it. He had to give me a shot in my gums, which wasn’t comfortable, but he fixed it right up.It’s now a simple “one thing you don’t know about me!” that I rarely think about, though at the time it was inconvenient and uncomfortable and embarrassing.
Fast forward to 2019. I now have a smart phone (YAY), and just the other day I got a frantic text from a dear friend: “Please pray! Joel fell outside and broke both of his front teeth!”
Joel is her oldest. At eight years old, he’s a sweet, smart, sensitive kid. Breaking his front teeth was traumatizing for the whole family since none of them had experienced it. As I watched the flurry of group texts, I jumped in to say, “Tell Joel only the coolest kids break their front teeth! I broke both mine in high school and got them all patched up! No one has ever been able to tell!” and I texted them a picture of my glamorous smile.
She replied, “How did I never know that about you? I told Joel, and he instantly felt
better! I can’t even tell you how relieved and happy he was when I told him you had chipped your teeth too!”
Ok, so I know this sounds like a simple exchange. But something about it struck a chord with me.
It is such a small and simple picture of the human experience. Joel experienced something sudden and painful. Almost a loss of some sort (granted, a small loss, but a loss nonetheless). And since he had never experienced it, his heart broke, and he thought he had completely ruined himself by chipping his teeth. His parents, bless their hearts, had no idea how to go about figuring out a chipped tooth. Would their boy need surgery? Will the pain last? Would there be more blood? Would he look the same when…if…the dentist could fix it?
And along comes someone who says, oh hey, I did that! My teeth looked just like yours! And I am completely ok now! You’ll be fine!
In his pain and confusion, Joel instantly felt less alone. His parents felt relieved. They saw that someone else had lived that story and survived and was thriving actually. Even though it was simply chipped teeth, I was overjoyed to make this little boy feel better about his scary ordeal. It meant a lot to me, actually. And it got me thinking.
This isn’t just about chipped teeth. This is about stories. This is about the scars, the bruises, the little aches and pains that make up a life. This is about being real about what’s behind our blinding smiles and picture perfect social media feeds. People might crave beautiful faces and images and quotes, but I promise you they crave your story more. And everyone’s story is needed and useful in this life.
Does someone’s marriage look perfect to you? It comes with its own valleys and struggles and fights and victories. Does someone’s job look better than yours? It comes with its own challenges and problems and anxieties. Does someone’s kids look better-behaved and more gifted than yours? They come with their own struggles and joys and confusions.
Does someone’s smile look perfect to you? Look closer. It might be a little lop-sided or patched up or held up with a heck of a lot of muscle and tears. Get to know the story behind it. Share your own. You may be surprised who is lifted up by your simple vulnerability. We fear others will laugh or judge us, but what if others are comforted? What if our story brings joy? What if it relieves fear and pain, ushers in peace, and encourages…well, courage! And God intends for all of us to be encouragers.
There’s no better feeling than to talk to someone about a struggle and hear them say, “Me too!” Our biggest tools aren’t our money or resources or accomplishments. Our biggest tool is our story. Don’t be afraid to share yours.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3