My early Monday morning dental appointment, following a long night meeting deadlines, had me feeling a bit unappreciative of my dentist as I called for the dogs, ushered them into the house, hurriedly locked the door and headed for the highway.

It was a good visit.  The elevator music was soothing, no cavities or other problems to report, and in no time at all, I was on my way again with teeth polished, an appointment for April and a little plastic bag that stopped me dead in my tracks!

Filled with a tooth brush, a travel-size tube of toothpaste and a blue plastic square of dental floss, the bag was nearly identical to those I passed out, dawn-to-dusk for nearly a week, while assisting a team of US volunteer dentists in Cuenca, Ecuador.

The indigenous people who came to the clinic had often traveled on foot, sometimes for more than a day; I only had to back my car out of the garage.  They came eager to sit in the lawn chairs elevated on cinder blocks; my dentist asked if I’d like a pillow to support my back.  The children who came, often   were frightened and cried… – silently; we all know what it sounds like in the good old USA when Jr. needs a filling!!

I remembered one little boy who was biting down on the gauze where a tooth had been extracted trying to say, “Gracias” when I handed him his bag.  The gauze fell from his mouth and, with a combination of embarrassment and panic, he lunged for it, snatched it up and tried to put it back.  Thankfully an attendant stopped him before he contaminated the site and gently escorted him back inside for a fresh dressing, all the while clutching his bag of dental care items.

While the boy was gone, I looked into my purse for the sheet of stickers I had brought for the children of the family housing us.  There were not many left but, with a pair of scissors, I was able to pare them into a dozen or more individual hearts, stars and balloons.  When the little boy came back out tears rolled down his cheeks.  He had to be in a great deal of pain.  The doctors did what they could to numb the teeth before pulling them but, with so many patients to see, there was never enough time for the Novocain to take full effect.

This time I told him not to speak and asked if he would like a sticker for being so “Bravdo”.  One little star on the back of his hand and he was fine.  His bright brown eyes glowed with pride as mine rimmed with tears when he humbly mumble-hummed “gracias”.

Back at the embassy in Quito I sweet-talked the Community Liaison Officer out of a piece of official letterhead and wrote a letter to Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Company.  When they heard how the stickers had strengthened and encouraged the children who had received them the factory packed up four huge rolls of stickers and shipped them to me all the way from Petaluma, California!  There were so many stickers in that box that, when my husband’s tour of duty as Naval Attaché was over, I was able to pass them on to the missionaries of Los Andes for their medical teams to use.

It can be easy to lose your attitude of gratitude in daily living.  I am thankful for the reminder my dentist’s goodie bag brought to me and the words of scripture that tells us, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”Colossians 2:6-7

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