Enough with “Never Enough” {Take Heart…in the Quest for Wholeness}


This past week, I sat in the orthodontist’s chair for the last time. The doctor took pliers to the brackets and snapped them off of my teeth one by one.

He had done that to my skepticism, too.

I had come to him a mess after two and a half years in braces at another provider. Teeth that should have curved around instead formed a straight line out across my lip. My bicuspid was so far gone from the arch that its root just about poked through my gums. A periodontist had told me I’d need to try a bone graft and even then may end up having to get it pulled. I’d gone through two unnecessary dental surgeries and rough recoveries with swelling, infection, and dry socket. My mouth was tender and so was my sense of trust.

Then, I kicked myself while I was down. Why did I get the braces at all? My husband had told me he didn’t think I needed them. Why hadn’t I left my bite as it was, dealt with the little bit of crowding and the off-center mid-line, and saved myself all those years of awkward smiles and kisses, saved myself from looking worse than when I started, saved the tooth with the protruding root that would possibly have to be removed?

If there’s one thing the whole fiasco had done, it was to show my perfectionist self the virtue of “good enough.”

My new doctor studied the X-rays and photographs, recorded precise measurements, outlined a plan and handed me tissue after tissue when depression and doubt locked in like the stubborn brackets and wire.

“It’s not going to be perfect…” he told me. I knew there was no way to make my smile completely symmetrical due to the fact that I’m not a teenager anymore, not to mention  the extractions I’d endured before finding my way to his office. He went on, “…but it will be good.”

I’ve long dealt with the “never enough” sickness just like the rest of our culture, so I nodded my head the other day as I came across a quote from Lynne Twist in Brené Brown’s “Daring Greatly”:

“We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of….Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack….This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life….”

In my saga, my own “never enough” surfaced in my insistence that I get braces when they weren’t really necessary. I’ve seen the “never enough” of other people come out in other ways. I remember not too long after we’d moved into our home, someone asked my husband and I if we had a dream house in mind. “We love where we are,” my husband said with a puzzled look on his face.

Sure, maybe we’d like a little more land or an extra upstairs bedroom or a garage on the side of the house instead of the front. But to focus on what this house doesn’t have would be to look past the gorgeous craftsmanship, the quality fixtures, the ample square footage and the fact that it sits right in the middle of our dream life…a walkable town with easy access to our son’s school, the library, restaurants, shops and all kinds of seasonal festivals. This is dream house enough for us. It’s not only good enough– it’s more than enough.


Then there’s the scene of two authors chatting at a party thrown by a billionaire friend. There, Kurt Vonnegut jabbed his friend Joseph Heller and told him that the host of the party “had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history.” I’ve never gotten over how Heller responded: “Yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.”

Emotional wholeness eludes until we can say we have enough, we are enough, this is good enough…enough! Ironically, the vulnerability of physical distress or sickness can have a way stripping us down bringing us to that place of enough.

You know what Brené Brown calls the opposite of the “never enough” mentality? She calls it “wholeheartedness.” It has to do with the courage to be imperfect and an openness to life even though it offers no guarantees, like our Take Heart focus these last several weeks, like my orthodontic treatment these last four years.

Right on schedule, visit by visit over the next 18 months, my doctor worked the miracle. He pulled my wayward tooth back into the curve, closed my horrid gap and made my bite line up. My mid-line will always be off and my smile will always sit a bit asymmetrical, but it is good, more than enough.

On de-band day, some brackets held tight, bonded complacent from the four years of drama and trauma. The doctor and my friend, his assistant, rocked them back and forth, chiseled them away, and little by little the chains fell off, braces and perfectionism.

{What experiences have revealed/transformed your own “never enough” attitude?}


Thanks for visiting Message in a Mason Jar where we’re finding the loveliest things in the most ordinary containers. To get posts delivered to your email box or blog reader, enter your email address on the homepage sidebar or enter http://messageinamasonjar.com/feed/ in your reader.

This week in our Take Heart series we’re talking about the quest for wholeness, whether physical challenges illness or emotional struggle. Body and spirit together form our complete nature, designed by God. I hope you’ll take time to read the amazing array of posts from our guest writers this month and let us know what resonates with you and your experience.

Surprised by Summer

I started last summer with a list.

Cloud gazing.
Firefly catching.
Bird watching.
Running through sprinklers.

I was all set to lead my kids on a tour of the season’s simple joys.

Strawberry picking.
Bare feet on grass.
A boat ride on the lake with friends.

I had plans for them to take it all in.

Fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Buttered corn on the cob.
Growing a watermelon from seed, then sinking teeth into the ripe red.
Walking to the local parlor for ice cream.
Cotton candy at a carnival.

I was writing their future memories.

Reining in the wind with pinwheels and kites.
Waving flags and watching the parade.
Swirling their sparklers and gasping at fireworks.

It was all I planned for summer, these little pleasures, this simple list. I needed this intentionality to kick me out of the phase of weariness that had carried over from the previous fall and winter and into spring.

But then the first week of this new season started with surgery to uncover and leash my unruly canine tooth, the one that had been hiding in my palate since childhood, one that we meant to pull forward to join the rest of my teeth. A few weeks later, I learned the surgery was useless and that I’d need another.

I felt a bit foolish to look at my summer’s simple joys list now, to revisit all of the idealistic pleasures I had planned…. What did it matter if joy came near, anyway if I couldn’t smile?

As soon as I’d stumble on a happy event and my lips dared to open, I’d slap my hand over my mouth to keep people from seeing my flared teeth and the horrible empty space in the front of my smile. Behind the scenes, it was even worse. One of my teeth had been pushed so hard from orthodontic treatment that it was thrust outside of my arch, its root protruding, almost piercing my gums.

But in the midst of the leftover cloud of anesthesia, the haze of pain meds and the almost-daily visits to the surgeon when the recovery went awry…in the middle of it, joy found me.

I visited my newborn niece and talked misty-eyed with her mom about the pretty things that hang on discipline and hard times, and I thought how pain is often the backdrop that makes joy stand out all the more. And vice versa. As I shared in the comments section of the Stars Dancing in the Water post the other day, in Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.”

When joy finds us, we feel the full meaning of the moment. We soak in the good, but we also feel the pain of knowing that all is not perfect…yet. These little joys in the middle of hardship, they are glimpses of the full redemption to come, when we will have these gifts as they were meant to be.

Like Ann Voskamp and her list, I was starting to keep one of my own, not things I planned to find, but things that found me….

My little beauty playing behind the sheer curtain in her room, looking like a veiled bride.
Her eating strawberries right from the field, this confidence that all He makes is hers to enjoy.
My little boy clipping his sailboat tie on his T-shirt before heading to the playground, a creative-type surely starting a new fashion trend.

And then, if only you could have seen my son when we went to the farm to visit Hoover, our original unruly canine. My boy saw the open fields and he didn’t need a list of summer’s simple joys to tell him to do this, he just felt it, real freedom, and he ran with all his might and turned himself upside down in somersault after somersault after somersault, open-mouthed grinning all the way.

And, sometime I want to tell you the whole story, how my children piled puppy after puppy on my lap that night, all eight of the little Hoovers, just days old. I want to tell you bit by bit how I went to the farm that night with teeth gritted and shoulders squared, a fighting failure of a mother and homemaker, and how they piled those sweet, sleepy, trusting puppies on me and made me know my worth. I ended the night with open hands, fireflies landing in them and taking off again over fields of soybeans, a joy hoped for that summer, but until then, not yet seen.

The summer went on. I kept on playing despite the pain and uncertainty. We read Feathers for Lunch, made nests out of salad and got to our bird watching. We ran through sprinklers. We twiddled our toes in grass. We walked to town for ice cream…more than once. We grew our watermelons and chewed them down almost to the rind where they curved like toothy little grins. We waved our flags and swirled our sparklers, checking off some more boxes on our original summer to-do list. And still, the spontaneous surprises came.

I clapped at the sight of my friend and her new husband kicking off their sandals on the dune where they said “I do,” laughter and grains of sand soaring. Afterward, my non-dancing husband twirled me and pulled me close in the low light of the bandstand. I laid my head on his shoulder, trusted his lead. Earlier, at the wedding ceremony, I had read from Joel, and the words came again to me now: “I will make up to you for the years that the locust has eaten.” I needed to trust His lead, too, to count on Him to make up for the months ruined by my unruly canine(s). And soon, He would do it– He would lead my family to one of our favorite restaurants, not even on our usual night, and cross my path with a friend who works for a different orthodontic provider.

I felt we were getting somewhere, but then, on my birthday, I lay in bed depressed again. Unlike my old provider, this new one was confident he could lure my tooth back into the arch, make my smile presentable again and even close my bite. But my first two years in braces would count for nothing. We were starting from below ground zero. I would have to pay the full price for a completely new orthodontic plan. This had been weighing on me for weeks, me feeling like a money pit.

Then the phone rang. I wiped my eyes and put some cheer in my voice so as not to give my mood away. It was my husband. He had gotten a call from his boss just then, an unexpected raise, six months before review time. And it covered all but twelve dollars of the monthly fee for my new orthodontic plan. A surprise…just for me.

The boss didn’t know it was my birthday, but God did. And He knew just what I needed that day. The attentive One who sent me a heart-shaped tomato in the garden in the heat of summer, He had a birthday gift picked out for me, an all-expense-paid trip to healing and wholeness. I needed to know I was not a burden and that my situation hadn’t escaped His notice and that I didn’t have to plan or provide for myself. He knew all that.

He has a list, too, these simple joys He’s just waiting to give. And when He surprised me with it all last summer, in the middle of trouble, I couldn’t help but smile…with my teeth showing.

{So far, this summer is much less eventful than last! Have you ever been surprised by what a season had in store? What do you have planned for this one? Share your story in the comments.}