Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fall into the gap.

I met a new doctor at a routine exam. She leaned her head to the side, shaking my hand and smiling as she introduced herself. Her teeth were bed-sheet white and straight, but she had a gap between her top front teeth. My eyes were drawn there uncontrollably. I notice tooth gaps, I always do. Why hasn’t she gotten that fixed? I wondered.

I always shook my head and tsk-tsked when people got plastic surgery to appear younger, or 'improve' some part of their appearance. "Why can’t they accept the way He has made them over time? Didn’t He mean for us to have a big nose, or wrinkle up, and perhaps think of other things than vanity? It’s sometimes a blessing to lose what you value—if what you value is meaningless." I smugly anticipated the day when I would grow old gracefully, I'd show them all, I'd take what came.

This is what came: sagging anatomy, crow’s feet, upper arm hammocks, muffin top and an apron. (If you don’t know what an apron is, keep yourself in the dark.)

Seeing is believing. I completely understood. I wanted plastic surgery. Once I found out the cost for arms, butts, or boobs, it was necessary to adopt the attitude that if God made old people look old, who was I to change that?

I had a gap between my two front teeth on and off since I was knee high, and I (usually) never liked it. I chose to pretend it made me look fun and likeable. I'd never have to worry about someone hating me because I was beautiful. That’s a silver lining, right? I tried so hard to love the gap, but if you have to try, it usually ain’t gonna happen. I tried to love being a size 26, but could never figure out how to do that either.

There’s a quilting tradition in U.S. where a quilter will purposely sew a mistake into their quilts—an upside-down patch, a mismatched color, a backwards pattern. This is to acknowledge that God is the only being who can make perfection. I reversed that in my mind, seeing my tooth gap as a God-made flaw which he wasn’t correcting. If what He makes is perfect, why am I like this? And anyway, isn’t it some sort of hubris if you PUT the imperfection there? Does it count as humility, instead of some disingenuous gesture? Maybe it depends on the quilter.

My Non-Pleasant Gap was ever-present from when my teeth came in to when the braces eradicated it at 13. After braces I always wore a retainer of some sort which kept me gap-free until I was about 30. Some dental work ruined the fit of the mouth guard that had kept the top teeth in place. I didn’t want to drop $400 for a new one. I didn’t realize how much the guard was keeping everything in line.

Suddenly unfettered, the teeth eventually grew apart. Their separation left a new gap. Or maybe it was the old gap, just coming back around like an ex looking to hook up.

I assumed God brought it back. I pouted. Eventually, I decided if God wanted it there, who was I to change it? I suspect I only adopted that attitude because I was told there really wasn’t a good option for improving function or appearance. Essentially they weren’t broken, so my dentist wouldn’t fix them. Fine, prudent, responsible, but a bummer. Is the word ‘bummer’ back in style yet? I still use it. I’m like a stopped clock that’s still correct twice a day. Every 30 years my lingo is back in style.

So. There I am, telling my front gap that I’m not ashamed being seen with it, while looking all around for a way to ditch it. (Teenage flashbacks.)

Back to the quilt metaphor-thingy. What if I made a perfect quilt as a celebration of his Glory rather than a proclamation of my human inability to measure up? In other words, can I justify fixing the gap like I really want to do, by saying it’s a testimony, not a false humility? I want perfection to look how I think it should look, but He’s got his own ideas, I guess. Why else slap that gap back on my face? Was it to keep me humble through my (perceived) imperfections? I correct it, does that go against what God wants for me?

And then, the Mother’s Day Makeover arrived, making the whole thing a little more confusing.


  1. You are so great, JK! This post made me think about our motivation for changing our bodies. I think you are motivated by health and well-being. Your identity is secure in God, so plastic surgery, etc. doesn't change your beauty and value to God (obviously). If we want to change things, we have freedom to do what makes us feel better about ourselves. We are free! Sometimes we can accept things about ourselves, and sometimes we need to change things--totally OK, don't you think?

  2. Heather, what would I do without you?