Dancing in the Darkness

by Elizabeth

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A year ago I found myself in a deep well. This well was so deep I couldn’t see the sky. Even if I could have seen it, I wouldn’t have tried to look up. That’s how dark it seemed down there.

In the midst of this darkness, a friend invited me to attend a dance class with her. I hesitated. I didn’t have the right clothes. I didn’t have enough time. I wouldn’t know what I was doing; I might embarrass myself.

My friend told me I could easily find the appropriate clothes, and that it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing. Her whole life, she said, she’d never been an exerciser, and she could follow along in class. She assured me I could too. She gave me the courage to try.

That first class found me in tears. I don’t remember what happened. I only know that whatever the teacher (who is a believer) was saying, it matched what God had been teaching me in my prayer times. The second class was the same as the first: more echoes of the whisper of God. And more tears.

The third class, same story. Clearly dance was touching deep, tender places inside me, but at least by that third week, the tears didn’t take me by surprise as much.

I’m a “words” person. Words are how I communicate with the world. They’re how I communicate with God. They’re how I communicate with myself. But after this last year, more and more I find myself agreeing with Jacob and Sarah Witting in Skylark that “sometimes words aren’t good enough.”

Dance speaks a different, wordless, type of language that wordy people like me need. We need to come back to ourselves, to live in our bodies again. Too often I live solely in my head. Thoughts, especially of the dark dreary kind, circle round and round and never find a resting place.

I’d been disconnected from my own body for so long. I didn’t know any other way to live. By the 5th grade I was already stuck in my head; I had already intellectualized everything. At church, women’s bodies were something to be wary of, an ever-present temptation for men. In my own life, a small set of breasts had still attracted the attention of a predator at church and church camp.

These early experiences taught me that the body was sinful, and we must transcend it by the Spirit. The body did no good, only bad. By the 9th grade I had developed an eating disorder. Is it any wonder?

But reconnecting with my body was what dance class was about. Because in that deep, dark well, something was missing, and that something was me. I had gone missing. And in some mysterious way, I met God on the dance floor and came back to myself.

I still remember the first time I could actually execute the turn I’d been practicing unsuccessfully for weeks. I felt a thrill that my body, not just my mind, could learn something new.

I still remember the first time I could actually look at my face in the mirror. All the other experienced dancers were looking in the mirror, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It seemed vain somehow.

I still remember the first time I implemented a correction on the first try and started to think, maybe I can trust this body of mine. My body had seemed so untrustworthy for so long.

A funny thing happened when I started trusting my body: I became frightened. I had never trusted it before. Trust was what I’d been working towards, but the first time I felt it, it was so unfamiliar that it scared me.

I still remember the class when the teacher kept insisting that we “take up the space.” That we enlarge our movements and really take charge of the dance floor. It made me think about all the ways in which I live my life small, not daring to take up any space, physically or metaphorically.

This was an entry point into the rest of my life. I’m a writer, but even words were lost to me in that dark time. I had shrunk into myself, and I barely wrote anything that year. I wasn’t taking up space anywhere. But dance class challenged me to change that.

Attending class each week got me out of my head and into my body and – importantly – into the company of other people. Because sometimes healing isn’t a solitary venture. Healing is something that happens to us when we’re with people.

Sometime in the course of the year I stopped feeling ashamed of where I was (it’s easy to feel discouraged when you look at others much more skilled than yourself), and I began to better accept myself where I was.

My favorite part of last year’s dance classes, by far, was dancing to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I couldn’t contort my body into many of the movements, and I could barely remember the order of the choreography. But this one thing I remember: “I once was lost but now am found.”

During this phrase we would fall to the floor flat on our backs, and then reach up for God. We repeated that movement over and over again throughout the spring months. There was something about confessing my lostness and declaring my foundness again and again that undid me every single week.

I knew I’d been lost that year – lost in anxiety and depression and health struggles and poor emotional choices. I lay on the dance floor the same way I lay at the bottom of the well – alone and in need of help. But each time I danced this song, I was also reminded that I had been found by a loving Father. There were times during that year when I refused to talk to God because He wasn’t healing me fast enough. Yet through all my confusion and stubbornness, He still found me.

Somehow week after week I met God on that dance floor. I never expected to meet God on a dance floor. I expected to meet him in an early morning quiet time. Or maybe a mountain top, or an ocean front. Certainly not a sprung laminate floor.

We broke for the summer and returned to class a few weeks ago. Those first few classes were enough to remind me that I am still a beginner. But you know what? That’s ok. When I first started dancing, the instructor told me that “dance is a journey.”  It’s not about arriving or finishing. He repeated himself to me just last week: this is a journey.

I’ve been on a healing journey this last year. Maybe you’re on a healing journey too. Maybe you need physical healing. Maybe you need emotional healing. Maybe the healing is slow in coming. Maybe you feel God is too slow in healing you. Sometimes God heals us in big, sudden ways in an experience or an event, but sometimes He heals in slow, nearly inconspicuous ways.

And sometimes He reaches down into a deep, dark well and week by week gently pulls us up.

And then we see the sky.

And then we dance.

 

Originally appeared at Velvet Ashes; reprinted with permission.

A Brother’s Letter {Velvet Ashes}

by Jonathan

I’ve always appreciated women.

Growing up, I watched my mom and dad interact as equals, with each other and with their friends.

I loved watching my mom’s eyes flash with intellectual fire as she discoursed with others about theology or how to define (and practice) radical obedience. I loved her sweet smile as she pondered the red geraniums outside her window, often while nursing a baby.

I loved scratching the dirt in the fall, at her direction, planting the blobs she called bulbs. And then I loved watching her eagerness as we looked for the first hint of spring: the brave but tiny crocuses, deciding that their appearance would be more surprising if they poked through a crust of snow.

I am a man, but I learned much about manhood from a woman.

And so I want to say I’m sorry.

I’m not sorry I’m a guy, but I am sorry that a bunch of my sisters have been mistreated by guys, both in the church and out of it.

A Brother’s Apology
I’m sorry that, instead of really hearing the devastating echoes of #metoo, we sat silent, sometimes scared, shuddering for all the innocent men who’ve been falsely accused. Not only was our response statistically absurd, it was also staggeringly unempathetic. I am so sorry.

I’m sorry we’ve treated you as if you were, all of you, The Great Temptress, hatching plots to take us down. I’m sorry we’ve been afraid to speak to you, afraid to have an actual friendship with you. Unless we were dating you or married to you, we were so afraid of what things would look like that we never actually looked at you. And so we missed you. We missed seeing you as the human that you are. We missed your giftings and we robbed ourselves of the opportunity to learn from you. We were mistaken.

We were so insecure, so driven by a deep Adamic fear of being controlled. We forgot the power of the Cross to roll back the curse.

Continue reading the full article at Velvet Ashes.

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The Day I Left

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes for their theme on Parents. ~Elizabeth

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Seven years ago I left Kansas City for Phnom Penh. In the early hours of a frigid January morning my husband and I boarded a plane with our four small children, leaving behind two devoted grandparents and a very full life.

I threw myself into life in Asia and began to identify Cambodia as home. It was where my life was. It was where my husband and children were. I embraced my inner Third Culture Kid, threw off the shackles of American culture, and flattered myself that I was becoming a more global citizen. But roots grow down deep, don’t they?

This past summer when I visited Kansas City, I had strong feelings of “this is home.” That this was my city. Although I have always felt at home at my parents’ house, on my two previous U.S. visits I had not felt that attachment for the metropolitan area as a whole. But being in KC in the summer is different from being there in the winter. It’s friendlier. Happier. This past summer was the most magical summer of my life. It stirred up a host of good memories and reminded me of a former life — a life that I don’t want to forget.

I recently found my journal entry from that day and was surprised by the intensity of my feelings of “home” towards Kansas City and by the sheer volume of memories. I find that in the span of seven years, I have come full circle, back to the feelings of this original journal entry:

Kansas City is my home. After moving a lot as a military kid, I’ve been in KC 18 years. It is home.

Driving through the Grandview Triangle to church hundreds of times. Going to the dentist. Going to LSHS. Running, biking, swimming in Bridgehampton in the summer. Babysitting the Craddocks.

Falling in love with God at Red Bridge. Falling in love with Jonathan at Red Bridge. Youth ministry and four babies. Burying Mark and seeing a counselor at Christian Family Services. Living in the Parsonage for five and a half years. Some of my favorite memories in life.

Closing the garage door that last time to drive away was harder than I anticipated. Even when I come back, I can’t go back there. So many good memories of family life. So much life.

During the farewells at KCI I cried and shook telling Mom goodbye. We’ve had a wonderful friendship, and I love her dearly. I worry about her being alone. I wish she could keep kissing the grandkids twice a week. I want them all to know her as well as I do.

I’m thankful that after seven years, my children do know my parents well. My parents Skype or FaceTime my kids once a week. They’ve visited us here. And of course we live at their house — my home — while on furlough. The girls cook and garden with Mom, and the boys help Dad with car, fence, and yard work. We all watch movies and eat popcorn together. We sit around the back yard fire late into the night and talk and sing and stargaze.

After a childhood of military moves where we never stayed in a house more than four years, the 18 years my parents have lived in their current home seems a lifetime, and I love both the house and the stability it’s given me and my family.

My kids don’t remember as well, but when we lived in KC before, we often saw my mom more than twice a week at church (which was a given). Since I was pregnant so frequently, I often had to go to prenatal or postnatal appointments. Mom would watch the kids while I went. Then we would eat lunch together and, many times, spend the rest of the day together. Some days I would just sit in her kitchen nursing a baby and talking for hours on end.

Jonathan was on staff at church and left early on Sunday mornings. Mom showed up at the Parsonage and helped me get the kids dressed and across the parking lot in time for Bible class. She brought books and toys, and we sat together in church while Jonathan sat up front leading worship. After Wednesday night service my parents often came to our house for a few minutes to hang out.

Our relationship has been cemented by all those times together. I can’t think what I would do without parents like these. Thank you, God, for good parents — all across the globe.

Rest is Not the Absence of Work, It’s the Presence of the King {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today . . . .

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The words sleep and rest are nearly synonymous in my mind. We wake feeling rested after a good night’s sleep. Conversely, we feel disappointingly not rested after a fitful night’s sleep. Sleep is a gift, and certainly, it is a type of rest, but it’s not the only kind of rest we need.

We also need the kind of rest that lets us stop striving. The kind of rest that lets us stop worrying, that lets us stop working. We need the kind of rest that lets us stop rushing. “All our busy rushing ends in nothing,” David proclaimed in Psalm 39:6. Our daily lives have changed significantly since then, but in all those years the human heart hasn’t changed. David’s words are as true today as they were 3000 years ago.

If we spend some time studying the world David lived in, we can find fresh meaning in the word rest. In the Old Testament, “rest” referred to a dwelling or habitation. More specifically, the settlement in Canaan provided rest to the Israelites. In ancient times in general, rest meant that the battle was over and the king was on his throne. Rest meant that regular rhythms could be taken up because the people weren’t at war anymore.

Finish reading here.

What an Open Sewer Taught Me About Resurrection {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is at Velvet Ashes today . . .

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A river runs through my city. And on the main riverfront there’s a tree. Actually, there are many trees along the riverfront, and they’re mostly palm trees. Palm trees grow everywhere in the tropics. And while they are stunningly beautiful, palm trees don’t grow very large.

But there’s a tree on the riverfront that dwarfs all the palm trees. It’s the biggest and greenest tree around, and it’s planted on the banks of the river right where raw sewage is discharged. My city’s waste rushes thick, black, and odorous right into the river where the tourists walk by.

The first time I noticed this, I was struck by the sight. How could two such unlikely things come together like this? An enormous, thriving tree and an ugly, smelly, polluting flow of refuse? I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t stop gazing and pondering: a tree full of life next to a stream of death.

This riverside tree became, to me, a symbol for Resurrection. For the ability and tendency of God to take garbage, to take death, and to make new life out of it, to make beauty out of it.

Finish reading here.

The True Myths That Keep Me Coming Back to God {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today . . . 

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The word myth often conjures up the idea of epic fantasy tales or of commonly held beliefs that need debunking. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary defines myth as both “a fictitious or imaginary person or thing” and “a widely held but false belief or idea.”

The dictionary also defines myth as “a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.” The word derives from the Greek mythos which simply means “story.”

And that is what I think of when I think of myth: I think of story. I think of narrative. So when I use the word myth to describe the Bible, I’m not saying it’s not true – because I most certainly believe it is true. Rather, when I say the Bible is myth, I’m saying that it’s full of stories that infuse meaning into our lives and that it is, in actuality, one overarching Story.

The God of the Bible audaciously makes a world, joyfully populates it with creatures, and then willingly redeems those creatures from sin and death. This story is unlike any story humans have ever told. Indeed, the Bible’s uniqueness among world myths is one reason I believe it, love it, and base my life on it.

Finish reading here.

That Time Paul Talked About Breastfeeding {Velvet Ashes}

by Elizabeth

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My husband and I worked in local church ministry for over ten years before moving abroad to serve for the last five and a half. There’s something I want you to know about this life: you’re going to need a lot of fortitude for the journey. Working with people, in any time and any place, is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your home country or a host country. Working with people is heart-wrenching and soul-filling, and you need endurance.

This is something else I want you to know: in the years ahead, never hesitate to serve out of your feminine strength. A lot of teaching models are filled with masculine metaphors. There’s battle this, and army that. There’s fighting here and soldiering on there. The Bible itself is filled with battle-speak. We are to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. But the same Paul who told us in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that we were to arm ourselves and stay alert and be persistent and stand firm, that very same Paul was not ashamed in his first letter to the Thessalonians to compare himself to a woman.

In I Thessalonians 2:7, Paul, Silas and Timothy jointly describe their conduct among the believers there: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). I was in a training session this summer when I first truly took hold of this verse. We had studied the great faith and love of the Thessalonian church in chapter 1, and now we were in chapter 2 studying the attributes of the men who’d told them the Good News. When we got to the verse about these three men acting like a mother, some of the men seemed to want to brush it off and focus instead on verse 11, where the letter writers compare themselves to good fathers.

But I couldn’t brush Paul’s words off. I remembered how physically demanding it was to be a nursing mother. I had to speak out: “We have this idea of a mother with her nursing baby that’s all sweetness and light. But it’s not. It’s really hard work. You have to feed yourself well, so you can feed your baby. You have to get up at all hours of the night to care for a crying child, and you have to try not to be cranky about all that lost sleep.”

As I spoke, women all around me nodded their heads in agreement, and several told me afterward how glad they were that I had said that. They had lived it, too, and they knew the challenges of mothering. You need a lot of stamina. You don’t sleep through the night for months on end. Sometimes you get painful mastitis or yeast infections. You have to keep up your water and calorie intake. To your embarrassment, you leak milk everywhere. Or you have to work hard to make enough milk. Sometimes you can’t figure out for the life of you how to make this child stop crying, but somehow you have to stay calm while you do it. On top of that, you’re basically tethered to your child because you don’t know when they’ll need to eat again. You sacrifice many things for this child, this child whom you love so tenderly and so fiercely.

Somehow this was something the apostle Paul understood. When we serve people, we have to make sure we’re getting our spiritual nourishment first, before we can pass anything of value on to them. Living and working among the continual, desperate needs of other people can physically and emotionally deplete us. And sometimes other people’s needs interrupt our planned and preferred schedules. Paul knew all this. He lived all this. At the same time, Paul felt incredible affection for the Thessalonians. Paul, Silas, and Timothy loved them so much that they shared not only the good news with them, but their own lives as well (verse 8). And they’d spent plenty of time praising them in the chapter before.

Over the past few months I have been unable to let verse 7 go. I’ve learned that in the Greek, the noun was unmistakably feminine. It was trophos: a care-giver, a person sustaining someone else by nourishing and offering the tender care of a nurse. I’ve learned that it had the connotation of mother’s care, of holding a child close, wrapped in her arms. There is familiarity here. Affection. Tenderness. The verb was thalpo: to cherish, nourish, foster, comfort, nurture, or keep warm. There is action here, decision, deliberate investment. And the phrase “her own children” (heautou teknon) indicates belonging. An inclusion. A turning towards.

All of these feminine-sounding words can illuminate our own roles, wherever God has placed us. They are not weakness. They are not unnecessary or irrelevant or dispensable. They are strength and they are resiliency and they are essential. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have a yearning for relationship that can solidify your ministry, not undermine it. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have an instinct to care for people sacrificially. Whether or not you’ve ever been a nursing mother, you have the capacity to lead with endurance.

Paul wasn’t ashamed of these qualities, and neither should we be. It is good and healthy to identify as a woman and serve out of our God-given identity. Of course, men can be nurturers too – just see verse 11. And women can be warriors – just see Deborah. But when I read these verses, I feel so much validation. Validation of my work and validation of my worth. All those years living and ministering as a woman, they weren’t wasted. And as someone who has had a fraught relationship with the Apostle Paul over the years, these verses are yet one more reason I can love both him and his letters, for he wasn’t afraid to lean into the feminine for the sake of the people he was serving. It is something we needn’t be afraid of either.

Originally published here; reprinted with permission.