Never Say Never

Parents of elementary and teen students, whom we love and also wonder what or if they’re thinking sometimes . . . I feel your pain. Some of you may remember that several years ago I started the journey of braces. Did you know your teeth continuously move throughout the course of your life? What’s that all about anyway? So I was having some headaches and yada, yada old people things, so I had two and half years of braces. At the time it seemed to take forever. I broke off brackets three different times, one of the times on a Friday night I called the emergency number because the bracket was gone but I didn’t see it land anywhere and I was afraid I’d swallowed it and it would puncture my stomach or some other organ that exists that you can’t do without but that shouldn’t be punctured by a metal object on a Friday night when you can’t get an appointment til Monday. The very nice emergency orthodontic answering service asked where my child thought they might have broken it off. I hesitated for a bit longer than a moment knowing I could pretend it was my child and not have to own up, but I decided she would be more entertained to know it was me, so I fessed up. I believe I could hear a suppressed chuckle, maybe my imagination, and she shared that no, I was not likely to die if I did swallow it, but that she doubted that I had. And that I would be fine without a rubber band on that side until I could come in on Monday and they would put a bracket back where it was supposed to be. And then she kindly shared with me that she hoped I would refrain from eating whatever it was that might have led to the breakage.

In the intervening years that my teeth have been straighter, my jaw less “poppy”, and my confidence in my smile just soaring – that’s what is promised you know; I’ve dutifully, o.k. that may be a little too strong, I have attempted to be fairly regular mostly in wearing the retainers at night that you are generously given at the end of the braces journey. “Especially at my age”, o.k. really? It is important to wear the retainers regularly overnight because, in fact, our teeth continue to move and one invests waaaay too much money to have them happily move back to where they were. So there may allegedly be some weeks that several nights go by that I don’t “retain”. Then when I remember, I decide to wear them during the day – 8 hours is 8 hours whether it’s dark or light the way I figure it. But here’s the thing. When I eat, then I have to take them off and keep track of them and then put them back on after brushing. It might be that sometimes I forget. I know, right? But usually I know right where I left them, and only twice have I had to ask a server or me to search a bit through the trash for the napkin where I gently wrapped them. All good, all the time.

Until today. Well, maybe yesterday or last week or something. I cannot find my retainers. Parents – have you heard that phrase much? I have looked everywhere – pickup, office, briefcase, nightstand, more office, dumped briefcase completely out including all zipper pockets and hidden sleeves – I love hidden sleeves in briefcases – Bond, James Bond, yes Q, I have even looked in the secret of secret hidden sleeves in said briefcase.

I know what I have to do, and I so don’t want to do it. The commercials are very clear, “free retainers for life.” My guess is their actuaries LOVE older people who get braces, because that guarantee doesn’t have to last nearly as long. They give you nice bright containers to put your retainers in so you don’t “misplace” them. They kindly tell you that if you’ll keep them in the same place every night that you won’t have to worry about losing them – it’s the same speech whether you’re 15 or as it turns out, somewhere in your 50’s. As I recall, I kinda rolled my eyes, smiled, and said something about how much money they would make on me because I would NEVER lose my retainers. So now I have to call them and confess. Who knew dental offices had something in common with ministry offices? I guess confession is good for the soul in multiple vocations.

It’s not a bad time of year to do that. Not that God cares much about braces, but maybe God knew a little confession for a pastor during Lent might be a good object lesson for any statement that includes what I NEVER would do. I’m guessing most of us in the course of some years of living have found ourselves walking back a bit on something we quite strongly stated we either would NEVER do, or would NEVER have happen, or that bad choice someone else made that we would NEVER make. I’m also guessing that no too few of us have uttered the statement to ourselves or others, “never say never!”

When I was teaching Middle School students, I determined that I would NEVER lose track of the music they were listening to, even if I didn’t like it. Ummmm, I think even Green Day is no longer considered contemporary to the age. As a young clergy in the very early days of the computer and no laptops, yes I’m that old, I determined that the Holy Spirit wanted “real clergy” to always write their sermon manuscripts by hand therefore I would NEVER type words on a screen to preach . . . do you know how loooooong it takes to write a sermon loooooooong hand? Yes, it’s true that if I would shorten the sermon, it wouldn’t take as long, but that’s neither here nor there – you may wish it was more here than there. snort It literally takes less than half the time to create a sermon on a computer than when I was composing on a yellow legal pad. Plus, deciding to change pieces of a notsogood sermon between services on a Sunday morning is at least feasible if it’s on the computer, longhand, it just stays bad. Yes, I know you know.

So maybe one of the rather well-worn statements that roll easily off our lips is true – never say never may have a deeper wisdom than we might give it credit. I wonder if God thought human beings would ever be so wicked and violent that a flood would be the answer? I wonder if Jesus ever thought it would really make religious leaders mad if he cured a bentover woman or a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath? I wonder if the Holy Spirit ever thought that empowering the disciples to speak in all the languages of the world at Pentecost would get them accused of drinking wine before 9 o’clock in the morning? Maybe never saying never is a part of the ongoing and living relationship we have with the sacred as well as ourselves, and no small amount of the need for grace.

I’ve used this blog to procrastinate long enough, it’s time to call the orthodontist and claim the guarantee of free retainers for life. Maybe then I’ll find my others and with two sets, I’ll NEVER need to call for the guarantee again . . .