My dad was a two balloons kind of dad. The infamous treasure chest in his office was the ‘pot of gold’ for his patients at the end of their dental appointment. The children would hop, skip, and sometimes sprint to it! Eyes wide and full of excitement. Patients were allowed to pick two prizes from the toy chest, “one for each hand,” was Dr. Camak’s rule. It was really fun to watch the eyes of the children light up when they realized they could pick not just one, but TWO prizes! In the seven years I worked for him, I observed many things around the toy chest.
It’s no secret that the ‘prize concept’ may or may not be used in the dental world to entice, eh, bribe children to accept their dental treatment. It’s a legitimate incentive, and very effective. A plastic birthstone ring and sparkly wand would turn a girl into a dental princess! Sunglasses and a race car would turn a boy into one cool dental dude. The Gideons would occasionally stop by our office and offer us mini “New Testament” Bibles. We would gladly accept and add them to the treasure chest. I will never forget when one little girl, who had come to her appointment with her purse(she was no more than four years old) sashayed her way to the treasure chest. She took an assessment of the inventory, but decided upon the sparkly fairy wand and mini Bible. She patiently waited while her grandmother checked out. She was all set to go on to her next stop, Chick-fi-la(one of the most frequented stops I believe for many of our patients after their appointments), with her freshly cleaned teeth, Bible, wand, and purse! I mean what more does a girl need? She was fully accessorized AND had her armor on! I wanted to be her best friend.
It could also expose the human sinful nature that exist even the cutest and innocent little tots. Some children wanted their prizes before treatment while others felt entitled to at least three. I even witnessed one little thief who filled his pockets with several “Made in China” gadgets. Siblings would argue with each other, and some scenes played out like little Gollums saying “My precious. They stoles it from us!”
In the last, probably three years or so, I did observe a seemingly rapid increase in the expectations and entitlements of children. I had more than one child ask me if we had ipods in the toy chest. Unfortunately, when I responded to one punk with, “I’m sorry your insurance doesn’t cover that,” all I got was a puzzled, “you are a weird girl” look. I mean I thought it was funny.
But the toy chest was used most effectively by my father. Sometimes a child(old enough to know better, but still to young to care, if you know what I mean) would “show out.” And by “show out” I mean be a complete and total holy terror. Being that I have no concept of motherhood or the pains of discipline, my own human flesh would intensify, and I would think to myself, “that brat does not deserve any prizes. What little Johnny needs is a spanking.” Oh right, spanking is a bad word these days. I would thank God I was not a parent and countdown till cocktail hour. About the moment, my daddy would shuffle up to the front, hands still powdery from his gloves to retrieve a “very special prize” for little Johnny. What?!! Dad, seriously!?!? I would think to myself, those prizes are reserved for the patients who overcame their fears, pushed through, tried hard, and were “good.” You know the ones who “deserved it.”
And he did most always use it for those purposes, but he, too, bestowed GRACE.
He gave to the undeserved.
He showed favor to those without merit.
He granted mercy when punishment was due.
He was a father. He loved as a father. He understood life in a way I could not. Tim Keller said, “God relentlessly offers His grace to people who do not deserve it, or see it, or even appreciate it after they have been saved by it.” I can only view my earthly father’s actions in moments like that as a beautiful reflection of our Heavenly Father.
"The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love." Psalm 145:8 (NLT)
I am so undeserving. Gosh, I could totally compete with little Johnny and give him a run for his money on tantrums. This radical love and grace that is available to us, if we are open to it, is nothing short of astounding. And you know what, that ‘grace’ that my father would show the “little Johnny’s” would more often than not produce trust, affection, and obedience for future dental care. Yep, Amazing, “toy chest” grace!
Oh my goodness, may God’s grace and mercy on my life produce and encourage future trust, affection, love and obedience to my God. I pray it does for you, too, sweet readers and friends!
And just as a bit of an epilogue to this post, I would like to leave you with the words of one of dad’s former patients and a friend to me. He so very well describes what I have heard countless times over. I treasure his words: "I thought you should know that one of my earliest memories was a visit to Dr. Camak, and how gentle, wonderful, and encouraging he proved to be for what was - I assure you - a terrifying prospect to a three-year-old ginger. When he was done with the inspection, he said "put ‘er there, pal!" and shook my hand, congratulating me for getting through it without crying. My first memory of feeling pride, strength, and triumph over the unknown, because of my dentist’s superb bedside manner. It’s the little gestures that make the greatest impact on people. Sometimes they can be downright magic. I’ve never forgotten even the slightest detail of that visit.”—Pikey Holdredge