Getting To The Root Of The Problem

Lately, I’ve been rootless.  At least, it feels that way.  One would think, at almost 60 years old, my roots would be getting deeper. On the contrary, I seem to be losing roots right and left recently.

It all started in January when I went for my dental cleaning.  A few days before my scheduled appointment, I developed a slight toothache in one of my upper molars.  It wasn’t a big deal, really.  I kept brushing and flossing, thinking I might have a bit of something caught between my teeth or sticking into my gum.  I took some ibuprofen, but it wasn’t too bad. When we first moved to Florida, I had a pain in the same area but it went away after the dentist prescribed a course of antibiotics. 

When I went for my January cleaning, I mentioned my pesky tooth. The dentist concluded that I had another infection in the same area. He was pretty convinced that the time had come for the endodontist to go spelunking down the roots of that particular tooth.  I reluctantly made an appointment with the endodontist. 

The endodontist took one look at the x-ray and immediately saw that I had a root canal on the same tooth in the past.  I had all but forgotten about it, but I remembered the experience when he asked me about prior work on the tooth.  It was 35 years ago, so I don’t think anyone can fault me for not remembering the details.  At first, the endodontist thought the tooth must have a crack in the root.  That would mean a root canal would not work.  I would need an extraction and related tooth replacement work.  If there was any news less happy than the fact that I needed a root canal, it would probably be I didn’t need a root canal in these circumstances.

To confirm his analysis, he sent me for a cat-scan of my face.  It turned out that I had badly infected, drowning sinuses.  Oh… and my constantly freakish anatomy had been playing tricks on me for 35 years. It seems I had a sneaky mutant extra root which managed to escape notice when the original dentist roto-rootered the infected tooth.  That rogue root had been playing hide and seek all this time.  In short, my tooth had been abscessed for 35 years. It just flared up from time to time.  Wow.  Great news.  I could have a root canal after all. 

After the root canal, I felt fine. For about 30 hours, there was no tenderness or pain or really any discomfort at all.  After the 30-hour mark, however, a small war broke out in my mouth.  For about five days, I was miserable.  My sinuses drained constantly.  My gum throbbed.  I had numbness and extreme swelling on the right side of my mouth and face.  I couldn’t eat anything solid.  There were times I looked like a stroke victim.  I took the antibiotics and iced my face compulsively.  I counted the hours until I could take more ibuprofen. It baffled me because I have had a couple root canals before and I didn’t remember them hurting like this.

Finally, after four or five days, I began to get better.  I still wasn’t good, but I was a lot better.  By the time I saw the endodontist for the completion of Root Canal 2.0, the tooth was back to normal.  Normal as in the way it had been for 35 years…. sketchy and skittish, but not causing me any consistent problems.  A few weeks of misery and a couple of thousand dollars later and my tooth felt the same as it had before the root canal. 

The endodontist, to his credit, did not declare victory.  He saw that the gum was still slightly swollen.  He took another x-ray and saw that a pocket of infection still existed.  He ended up doing a small surgical procedure to open up my gum and remove part of the root, along with the rest of the infection.

That sounds horrible, but it was actually much better than the first visit.  After the root-ectomy or whatever you call it, I had no pain at all.  I waited through the first 30 hours in dread, remembering the previous experience when I was all hoity-toity over breezing my way through the root canal.  Then it happened…. Nothing.  Picture me… rootless and loving it!

It isn’t just my dental roots that have been acting out.  An oak tree in my front yard was attacking my house. The first day we moved into the house, we took a break from unpacking to go to the local home repair store for something.  When we returned, we saw a garbage truck in front of our house, along with a huge pile of amputated tree limbs.  A neighbor explained.  While we were gone, the garbage truck got a little too close to our yard and accidentally sheared off a large portion of the tree. I should have known then that the tree was not to be trusted. 

For the entire time we have lived in Florida, that tree continued to be a malcontent.  Everybody else has clean driveways.  Not us. Less than an hour after sweeping the driveway, we’d find it covered in leaves. Northerners may talk about the leaves falling in the autumn.  In Florida, there is no such thing as weather and Mother Nature can’t seem to keep her seasons straight. The leaves fall ALL FREAKIN’ YEAR. 

After the hurricane, we surveyed our front yard with dismay.  Yes, everyone on our street had some mess to clean up. We had our own private natural disaster area on the front lawn.  The tree was still standing, but everything that used to be on the tree seemed to be covering the yard.  I’m not sure we ever really recovered.  The fallen leaves and branches seemed to expand geometrically over time.  We’d work on the mess for a couple of hours and then take a break.  Improbably, there seemed to be even more dead tree vomit to clean up when we started up again.  It defies all laws of nature the way that dead tree matter multiplied. 

There was a bigger problem, too.  Little by little, the roots from that tree have been expanding and pushing up through the ground…. And the driveway.  We were the only ones on our block with a split-level driveway.  If the tree had its way, that split-level was going to turn into a two-story model very soon. This all begged the question… if the tree roots were forcing our driveway ever higher into the stratosphere, what were they doing to the foundation of the house?  It truly was time to take steps. 

We hired our lawn guy to remove the Tree That Took Over The World.  He cut it down and we learned that there is sometimes sun in our front yard.  Apparently, our tree was causing a total eclipse.  He recommended a guy to grind down the stump to further thwart the root force.  The stump guy ground the stump down to a pile of sawdust.  He told us ahead of time that we would have to get rid of the sawdust ourselves.  He estimated we would have to shovel two to three large garbage bags of sawdust.  Fifteen bags of sawdust and many sore muscles later, we placed the last of our tree on the curb for the recycle people.  It still seems odd to look out the window and not see the tree, but I am hoping our efforts will result in our house remaining affixed to the ground. 

I think when people say they are trying to get to the root of a problem, they are barking up the wrong tree. The root IS the problem!

But more on that subject next week….

Am I the only one who is fighting with her roots?  What are your experiences?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a deeply happy day!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Singing The Unsung Songs

Working with the Alpha program at church reminds me again how valuable everyone is.  It is a huge undertaking, with many moving parts and many needs. We should notice and thank the people who step up and meet those needs.  It is easy to see and appreciate good leaders.  They are the face of the effort.  They are easy to spot.  They contribute unique and wonderful skills.  They orchestrate the whole project with an artistry that merits gratitude.  But there are other people who are a bit harder to see who also merit gratitude. 

For instance, I have two tall male friends that hang decorations for our Alpha evenings.  Part of my décor is colorful signs hanging from the ceiling, proclaiming thought-provoking quotations.  There is no way that I could hang those signs myself without a lot of effort and possible bodily harm.  My friends are comfortable with ladders.  They are both engineer types.  They skillfully figure out how to do this job efficiently and gracefully.  They actually seem to enjoy the process of deciding where and how to place the signs.  These tall guys do a lot of other things for me, including moving furniture and setting tables, also. 

There are also people who could not commit to providing a whole dinner for an Alpha evening, but contribute a bit of this and a bit of that so the person cooking the meal can concentrate on just the entrée and maybe one side dish. Everybody sees the cook du jour dishing up the entrée, but not everybody sees the person who brought the salad or made sure there was plenty of bread and butter.   

There are so many unsung people who help with clean-up ever week.  These angels stay out of the spotlight washing dishes, putting leftovers away, and cleaning countertops.  They may not have glass slippers, but they are Cinderellas, for sure. 

Young adults volunteer to staff the nursery room so that parents can attend the sessions.  These teen angels regularly ride herd on several small, squirmy bundles of kinetic energy during the two hours the Alpha course meets.  They feed them dinner and prevent all manner of disasters. So far, the same number of children who go into the nursery have left in one piece every week.  I think that is quite an achievement, but I am guessing that most of the Alpha participants don’t even realize they are there.  Out of sight, out of mind.

My friends Laura and Kari help with any number of smaller tasks, week after week.  One major contribution has been their skill and patience with folding. It may not sound like a talent, but I have to tell you that their penchant for folding laundry has helped me kept what little sanity I have.   I don’t mind washing and drying table linens, but those linens are supposed to be folded in a strange and wondrous way that is completely beyond me.  Laura and Kari patiently lay them out and follow the established protocol so that they end up neatly hanging in the linen closet. 

Other people pray for us.  They quietly beseech God to surround us with His grace and He always does.  I know that cadre of people generating powerful prayer is helping to fuel our efforts. 

It strikes me that there are unsung providing the backbeat, not just in my Alpha program, but in a good many life experiences.  It seems to me that almost every undertaking is supported by an army of people who are quietly contributing without anyone really noticing.  In fact, their job is often to make sure no one notices.  After all, if the tablecloths are clean and tidy, no one pays attention.  If they are a mass of wrinkles covered in stains, everyone notices…. And that isn’t a good thing.

I’m going to make an effort to seek out the unsung and sing their beautiful melody to the whole world.  It may be quietly and to one or two people at a time, because sometimes the unsung truly don’t like a fuss or a lot of attention.  But I’m going to make sure their music is heard…. because, even if a person doesn’t like a fuss, everyone needs to know he or she is valuable. If you agree, I hope you will find ways to spread the music of the unsung people in your life and activities. 

I also suggest that we might consider joining the unsung choir ourselves sometimes.  I’ve found that there is always a myriad of tasks that need to be done in any project… often tasks that no one ever even anticipates.  Being able to complete these tasks may not seem to be much of a talent or God-given gift…. Until you are the one on the receiving end.  Then, it is clear that, as quiet as those unsung musicians are, they are extremely talented and I am gifted when they show up for the concert!

Who are the unsung in your life?  Please leave a comment to share their music!  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have a thankful day!

Terri/Dorry😊


Upside Down, Inside Out, and Sideways

I am not artsy-crafty. I don’t really cook. I don’t believe in ironing. I am about as far from extroverted as you can get.

So how did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess for my church’s Alpha course?

Alpha is an international program of interactive sessions designed to explore the big questions of life and faith.  It was originally intended to minister to people who would not necessarily identify themselves as churchgoers or Christians.  The target audience has expanded to include anyone who wants to feel more connected, passionate, and intimate about the Christian faith.  The program lasts for twelve weeks, meeting once a week.  Every session includes a shared meal, a video about basic concepts of Christianity, and small group discussions.  One of the significant hallmarks of the program is that it should provide a welcoming, low-pressure environment that organically encourages comfort, trust, introspection, and searching. 

The Hospitality Princess is responsible for making sure the room where the sessions take place is warm and welcoming.  This includes décor and table arrangement and all things environment.  She is also responsible for either cooking a meal for the Alpha guests each week or cajoling friends, relations, and people who owe her money to provide a meal. There is also the small matter of clean-up and laundering table linens after each session.  Then, there is the hospitality princess’ most important royal duty of all- welcoming guests, bonding with them, genuinely loving them, and allowing that love to be palpable. 

So, I’ll ask again.  How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?  It seems difficult to think how a person could be worse-suited for the job than I am.

When I heard about Alpha at our church’s ministry fair, I was interested.  I read somewhere that ministry is the place where a person’s skill and passion intersect with a need of the people of God.  When I was working, I taught leadership classes on a fairly regular basis.  I loved it and I was quite good at it, if I do say so myself.  From what I understood of Alpha, the approach and techniques sounded very similar to what I employed in my leadership classes.  The content and objectives were different, but the overall strategy seemed similar.  In both situations, the idea is to help people explore important questions.  Both experiences try to grow understanding and confidence in an environment that encourages trust, openness, and experimentation.  I volunteered to help with Alpha.  I thought I could assist with facilitating small group discussions or something like that. 

During our initial Alpha team organization meeting, our administrator mentioned that we needed someone to take care of the hospitality aspects of the program (Hospitality Princess is my self-proclaimed title).  When he described the less tangible needs, like transforming an institutional parish hall to evoke comfort and coziness, my mind harkened back to more of the techniques I used when teaching the leadership classes. He also described some of the more tangible needs, like providing meals.  The closest thing to providing a meal I ever did when teaching leadership courses was supplying the occasional box of donuts.  I didn’t want to subject our guests to my weaknesses, especially one as profound as cookery.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to avoid volunteering if I was the only one willing.  I said I would coordinate the hospitality elements, if no one else wanted to do so.  I explained the limited skills I brought to the table, and disclosed the areas in which my talents were subterranean. 

No one else volunteered.

Fast forward several weeks and I am in the midst of the Hospitality Princess revelries.  Despite my many deficiencies, things are going well. Let me tell you about it.

I am not artsy-crafty.

While I will never be artistic, I relied on my prior experience to create what I believe is an appropriate environment.  When I was working, I had this theory about décor for classes and celebrations.  I called it The “Essence Of” Theory. Instead of obsessing and spending a lot of money trying to create specific effects, I made do with the “essence of.”  Hospitality didn’t have to look like what I had in mind, it just had to evoke that idea.  For instance, if you can’t have champagne in a federal government workplace, you can have sparkling cider to make people think “champagne” and “celebration.”  If you want to decorate a room to suggest a beach theme, it might not be practical to import sand, but you can place buckets and shovels strategically on a beige bedsheet in a corner of the room.  I once taught a lesson about the qualities of a good leader.  Part of that lesson involved an analogy from the Wizard of Oz.  My colleagues and I acted out part of the story.  I played Toto.  I did not wear a dog suit, but I arranged my hair into two scruffy ponytails sticking up out of my head. I didn’t look like a dog, but I was the “essence of” Toto and I evoked the associations people had with The Wizard Of Oz. 

I don’t really cook.

During session three of Alpha, I cooked dinner for over 50 people and no one needed a trip to the emergency room.  Not even me.  I have another dinner planned in a couple of weeks.  My bar for success for that meal is that I once again avoid poisoning anyone.  I have reasonable confidence that I will meet that admittedly low standard. I do intend to declare victory.  I have individuals or groups signed up to handle the other ten nights of dinners.  I am certain that these meals will prove much more satisfying to everyone involved. My role will simply be to support these folks in their food preparation efforts and applaud. 

I don’t believe in ironing.

I found out, to my relief, that the tablecloths beneath my non-poisonous dinners are permanent press.  I’ve laundered the tablecloths several times.  They seem to come out of the dryer clean.  There might be a few suspicious wrinkles, but they smooth out when I put the cloths back on the tables for the next session.  One could argue that I really don’t need to launder all the tablecloths every week.  However, if I didn’t bring the tablecloths home to wash, I’d have to hang them in the linen cupboard of our parish hall.  There is a specific, origami-inspired technique for folding the tablecloths over hangers.  It terrifies me. 

I am about as far from extroverted as you can get.

Here we have it.  Nothing has changed on that front.  I am still about as far from extroverted as you can get.  I do have an overactive sense of duty and a genuine heart for people.  As a result, my extreme introversion sometimes takes a back seat to showing people how much I value them.  I am still incredibly introverted, but I see it as my job to make our guests feel welcome and comfortable.  I am still incredibly introverted, but I honestly want our guests to feel loved and wanted…wherever they are in their journey.  If I do not engage with them, they will never know what is in my heart.  Such engagement is sweet, but also takes a lot of energy out of an introvert.  I am still incredibly introverted, which means I am incredibly tired.  On the other hand, things seem to be going incredibly well. 

So, I’ll ask again.  How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?  All other considerations aside, how did the person with the highest level of introversion get to be the person whose most important task requires the highest level of engagement? 

I still didn’t get it.  Then, our rector’s wife and my friend, Sunny (some of you might remember her from my post at http://www.terrilabonte.com/2018/05/growing-grown-ups/) told me about something she experienced months before Alpha started. She said she had been praying about the program and wondering who would be willing to coordinate the hospitality elements.  It had been on her mind and on her heart for days.  Then, one night, she felt that God was just telling her “Terri will do it.”  She knew nothing about my background.  She didn’t even know me very well.  She just felt that God had the whole thing sorted.  I would be the Hospitality Princess, no matter how unlikely. No one ever mentioned this to me until several weeks into the program. 

How did I ever get to be Hospitality Princess?

I think I am beginning to understand.  Something our rector said in his sermon last week seems to apply.  God does not call the qualified.  He qualifies the called.  It seems that God is qualifying me- turning me inside-out, upside down, and sideways.  And so, the reinvention continues….

Have you ever had an experience that you believe is God “qualifying” you?  Tell us about it! Please leave a comment to share your perspective.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a hospitable day!  And be a princess (or prince) if you are so inclined!

Terri/Dorry 😊

herbed chicken
Alpha decor