A Dance Worth Learning: Of Swing Dancing & Faith

West-Coast-Swing-Dance-2932_l_aaaafc0bcef9707d

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The lights go down and the music begins, loud, quick, and perky. I stand on the side in my pretty dress, waiting, hoping for someone — anyone, mostly, though hopefully one who can lead me well and make good conversation — to ask me to dance with him.

Soon enough, he sweeps me up with his expected request, “Would you like to dance?” He reaches out one arm for me to take and we find a spot on the crowded dance floor. His hand goes to my waist, mine to his shoulder, our other hands intertwined.

“I’m Elizabeth,” I say and he introduces himself, too. We talk a bit, but mostly we just dance. He leads me beautifully, giving me grace I never knew I had.

“Ugh, sorry, I’m not very good at this,” I explain, embarrassed, when I falter.

“It’s OK. Don’t apologize.” He smiles to assure me it’s alright.

Feel don’t think. Release don’t controlGive don’t hold back.

I remember and begin again, feeling, releasing, giving, and suddenly I’m floating on musical air, moving in ways I never thought possible for any person, let alone graceless, awkward, and uncoordinated old me.

The song ends and he dips me. I let my body fall to the side he leads it, resting in the sole control of his strength. It is scary and exhilarating. That dance is finished. We thank each other and part ways, the smiles still living on both our faces as we look for new partners.

 

To tell you the truth, dancing scares me more than a lot of things. It’s something I’ve been around my whole life, and because of that, I have this built-in shame from all the memories of getting it wrong. It’s like I don’t remember a time when I ever got it right in the realm of moving my limbs to music.

And so it’s hard for me now, at twenty even, past the childhood years and teenage awkwardness. My memories haunt me in the church halls, the classrooms, and the theatre floor, as if they were happening all over again. Sometimes I can’t take it anymore. I can only move to the music for so long before I have to go relax or even cry.

I was never able to explain it till this April, when these fears really began to meet in conflict with the need to dance and the need to be. In tears, I began to explain to others and to myself. But it still felt like it was too late. The dance call had come and I’d done as poorly as ever, yet I knew it wasn’t just that. Beneath it all, there was a river of tears and I let them out, agonizing forever over the strange pain I felt. The movement I’d been forced to distribute had caused this unquenchable pain, I was sure. From then on, I vowed never to do what I couldn’t, never to move to the music and ignite this pain again.

Because this shame and pain and utter exhaustion would always be there, whether in the church halls, the classrooms, or the theatre floor. And the pain, I decided was just not worth it. 

 

I don’t remember how it started — probably with a text from my friend, Holly. She asked do you want to go swing dancing and I thought about it for a while and decided Sure, I’ll go make a fool of myself because it was sort of fun when I went before. I took a risk and gave up my vow in part. “This is different,” I decided.

I wasn’t good right away, but I found that I wasn’t entirely bad either. I still had trouble with the same old things — coordination, rhythm, remembering what to do, and getting so nervous I forgot the steps.

But I began to find comfort in the fact that I was a follow, and if I could depend on my lead, everything would be alright. Some leads swept me off my feet and I felt as if I were flying through galaxies and worlds of jeweled sunsets, and flowing waterfalls.

I began to feel more than I thought. A slow release occurred as I let go of bits and pieces of my beloved control. And I started to give openly and with courage.

 

Some days, I feel like I’m losing hard battles. My head becomes a maze, and beyond the joys and beauty of life, I feel tight and hard.

I’ve realized that I have this mountain size need for control. I don’t know where it came from, yet I’ve come to see where it is leading me and it is a place of more restlessness and battles and discomfort.

It is not worth the shame and pain, I’ve learned.

 

“You dance gracefully,” he said before bowing and departing after our song had finished.

I almost laughed in his face. Instead, I stuffed my laughter with a smile and a gracious, “Thank you.” Another boy asked me to dance and as we did, I pondered the last leader’s words and my heart soared.

When you hear something, whether good or bad, you begin to believe at least part of it. And this was the summer I began to believe that peaceful living is a dance that I can learn, a beat that I can swing to, a rhythm that I can find. Because even though my heart filled with shame in every church hall, classroom, and theatre when the music began and the dancing started, when the lights went down in the dance hall, I could only feel a very peaceful kind of joy that held room for more.

And faith is a dance, too. One I’d like to fall more and more in step with everyday.

 

This summer, I’ve realized that I like to lead way too much. And I’m really not very good at it. Well, not at the kind of leading I try to do. The control I try to take. The unnecessary worries, and big, unneeded plans.

“If you want to lead, that’s fine but go to the other side,” a dance instructor said to the follows at the last lesson.

I’ve been trying to lead from my follow’s place, but this leader’s position is not one I can take. Life and faith are dances, too. Dances in which I must follow and surrender and most of all dance without abandon. 

 

I went swing dancing for my twentieth birthday. To most, that would merely seem fun, cool, or interesting. Only I and a few others know the true significance of choosing to do that activity on my special day. It was something I wanted to do, and chose firmly and freely. That makes me laugh and almost want to cry at the same time.

On my birthday in particular, my limbs loosened and my heart felt truly light. I began to really dance without abandon, follow without leading, and fall in love with something worth caring for.

I’ve found dance to be a great analogy for faith. God leads; we follow. He creates and we create out of His creations.

God invites; we accept. We enter in to a covenant of many, many dances. Some are tricky, messy, and odd. All are beautiful.

His hand’s at my waist, mine’s at his shoulder, and our other hands are intertwined. Locked together in an unbreakable embrace. His breath’s in the music, in the movement, in my tangled steps, my graceful ones too, in every spin and dip and jump.

The pain and the shame weren’t worth it, but the dance was one worth learning with the Father of dance to lead. 

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Your Pain Is Real

You.

Yes, you. With tears in your eyes, waiting to spring. Or a lump in your throat and a heart that hurts. Or a million different thoughts that you don’t know what to do with. You.

You matter.

You are infinitely valuable.

And you, your pain is real.

No matter what anyone else has said to you or how many times people have tried to deny you of your words. Despite the lies that you hear everyday. Even though you feel lost and confused and denied. Your pain is real, it matters, and so do you.

What have people told you? Think carefully.

How were you hurt? In grade school. In grade 8. Last year. Yesterday. What did people say? What did you try to hide? What have you shoved behind in the garbage like a banana peel? What have you told yourself didn’t matter?

Because those are the things that do. Those are the things that should not be forgotten.

~~~

Almost a year ago, a professor sent me my Acting final exam marks and comments. He responded to what I’d written in my journals. When I write, I share anything and everything. And so, I’d shared a little bit of the pain that the scene had spurred.

I remember his response. He said that whatever had happened to me in the past was real. It had an impact on me. It should not be covered over or ignored.

I closed that email quickly, blushing, embarrassed at the feelings I’d shared. Yet I opened it just as soon to read it again.

Because my soul craved to admit my pain. I did not want to keep it hiding any longer.

~~~

You. Yes, you, again. Sitting there, listening, reading, wondering.

Are you still reading? I hope so.

Your pain is real. I’ve said it before, I know. But its true. And that’s why I’m repeating myself.

Whatever has happened to you in the past — whether it was ten years ago or yesterday — is important. It is real. It is part of you.

Do not deny it. Do not try to cover your pain.

Let yourself admit the scars of the past. Let yourself be healed. Find freedom.

Because you matter.

You are infinitely valuable.

And you — yes you — your pain is real.

Thoughts On Thanksgiving

As a child, I adored Thanksgiving. Of course, there isn’t as much in it for a kid — no piles of presents like at Christmas or Easter Bunny to bring chocolates, but still I loved Thanksgiving. I wasn’t an increadibly mature or respectful child, but I enjoyed the opportunity to see my extended family members. Thanksgiving always meant that there were cousins and family friends to play with, Grancha to talk to when the playing was done, and uncles to tease me. I didn’t know it, but I had the true spirit of Thanksgiving although I could not articulate what I was thankful for then.

It is only 2 ‘o clock, but I am writing in here because today is Thanksgiving and it will be too late to write when I go to bed tonight. But I have to write now because I am SO excited! It seems so long until they will all come.

An excerpt from my journal, October 2004

paleo pumpkin pie 3

paleo pumpkin pie 3 (Photo credit: Liz_Davis217)

I still remember the first time I made pumpkin pie. Both of my grandmothers, Situ and Grancha, had come that year. I was twelve-years-old and proudly smiled when everyone told me it was one of the best they’d ever tasted. I eagerly anticipated my littlest cousin’s birth that Thanksgiving, too. Next year, around the annual turkey dinner, she would be there, crawling around from lap to lap.

“I’ve written a poem about Thanksgiving,” I announced the next year. It was one of my first poems, written for my Grade 8 poetry assignment. “It’s called Thanksgiving Sounds and it’s an Onomatopia.”

Stir, slosh, swish, sizzle

Many hands are at work

Ding, dong, rat, rat-a-tat-tat

Sounds are coming from the door

Buzz, chirp, sqawk, yak, murmer

Friends and relatives converse

Clatter, clack, thud

Dinner is served

Smack, gulp, crunch, chew

Dinner is gobbled up in a hurry

Buzz, chirp, squawk, yak, murmur

The room is filled with endless chatter once again

“Thanksgiving Sounds,” October 2007

At sixteen, Thanksgiving was a gloomy affair. My grandmother, Situ, died on October 7th, 2010, three days before Thanksgiving Sunday. We had a small gathering on Saturday that year, but I don’t remember much of it except that I was incredibly sad and not very thankful. There was no pumpkin pie because I hadn’t made one. All I could think about was what I didn’t have instead of what I did have.

What do I have to be thankful for this year, God? A funeral to go to, a grandma who is dead, perpetual grief, and depression?

My thoughts in October 2010

Each of those memories seems so long ago now, yet they flood back to me in an instant when I ponder the word Thanksgiving. In a way, part of me is grateful for each of those years and Thanksgivings — even the sad one. Because God shaped me into the person I am today through all of those experiences. Each Thanksgiving is part of me, just as each year is, and I wouldn’t give it up if I could.

This Thanksgiving, I am a first-year university student. I’ll be studying Spanish verbs and the history of Ancient Greek Art and writing an English essay draft this weekend. Like every other year, it’s a different Thanksgiving from before. I have new worries, troubles, thoughts, prayers, and joys. But I am thankful because of a verse that keeps coming back to me. It doesn’t promise perfection or happiness, but it does promise peace. The peace of prayer and a thankful heart.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Life Is Short

The other day when I was walking back from the gym, I saw two girls racing around the neighbourhood on bikes. I smiled, remembering past summers of chalk houses and bikes with fancy bells.

One little girl, on a pink bike closed her eyes. “This means I’m practically relaxing on my bike,” she told her friend proudly.

Her friend, who was on a floral pink bike, tried it. She shrieked, finding it difficult to keep her balance on the bike with her eyes closed.

Suddenly, I heard a car coming up behind them. I turned instantly, hoping the girls were off the road.

“Jenna, that car could have runned you over!” the friend on the floral bike called as Jenna, who had been closing her eyes still, crossed the street, eyes now wide open, right in front of the car that could have killed them both.

I breathed a sigh of relief that they were alright. But it reminded me that life is so short. Perhaps we may live 60 or 70 or 80 years, but those will go by quickly and never seem long enough. Or maybe we’ll die young and people will say it was “long before our time.” Regardless, we seem to go quickly and suddenly, when our eyes are closed but our feet are pedaling quickly.

Last week, I had a dream about someone I hadn’t seen in years. She was an acquaintance friend and sort of a fixture at church events. But she passed away before our first year of highschool had finished. In my dream, I was at her memorial again. And I remembered that life sometimes doesn’t end when we think it will.

On my birthday this year, I got three envelopes all in one day. They were from a grandpa, a grandpa, and a grandma. It wasn’t until later that I realized that all my birthday cards from grandparents had coincidentally come on one day. It’s been two years and the grief has mellowed, but sometimes I still can’t get used to the fact that my other grandma is gone from this earth forever.

Amongst all this death and scares of death, the most paining thing of all was a comment from a relative. We were talking about death. He made it seem as if it is better for anyone to die because “there is nothing after earth.” Nothing. Nothing at all. I wanted to disagree. I wanted to give him the hope of heaven, but I didn’t know how to tell him about the horrors of hell. I didn’t feel qualified and so I left it. It reminded me that life is not only short, but we must be prepared for whatever end we take.

Eternity is a long time. Much longer than any of us could imagine. I invite you to spend yours with Jesus for He is the only way to healing after death.

Never Give Up

It’s a Friday afternoon. The rain is pouring, my limbs are aching from skiing last night and dancing all day, and as usual, my heart is a bit sore, too. I desperately want to sit down with a nice cup of tea like I normally do when I’m down. But I can’t forget my promise for Lent. I can’t give it up now.

This week has been hard. I’ve had a few melt-downs, confessions, and realizations. These last two months have been difficult. There have been countless times where I’ve just wanted to give up. In fact, a few times I have given up. Because the stress and grief of life was just too much for me to bare and crying on my bed and trying to forget seemed a lot easier.

When something scares me, I tend to run away. I withdraw, slowly but surely. I didn’t mean to do that again. No, not this time. Not now that I’m “happy.” But the truth is that humans cannot be happy all of the time. It just isn’t possible. There is always a new wave to rock the boat. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on being happy or doing the things you need to do.

I don’t like to give up. Deep down, I hate it. Yes, I’ll admit that I withdraw easily when a challenge or grief overtakes me. But in the end, I’m a fighter. No matter what, I try my best. Anything less is just not right because Jesus didn’t give up on me. Even though I’m sinful beyond the shadow of a doubt, He forgives me when I ask. Although I’ve lied, yelled, mocked, neglected God, and just done things that I really shoudn’t have done, He let’s me back into His arms at night. And even when I give up on Him, He doesn’t give up on me. God is always willing to give a second chance to those who want it.  

So now, I won’t shy away. I’ll do what I need to do. I will work and work and work until I get the dances and Biology questions and parallel skiing. I’ll go to university like planned. I’m going to open my heart to the challenges of broken relationships and hold on to love. I’ll laugh and smile in the joy and let myself cry in the sorrow. I’ll keep my friends close and let them love me. I shall read my Bible and pray and never forget that Jesus loves me very much.

Never give up. On challenges and things you aren’t good at. Never give up. In the hard times when you’d like to run away or fall asleep forever. Never give up. On the future and dreams that you have. Never give up. On family and friendship. Never give up. On life and laughter and smiling with your teeth. Never give up. On faith. On God. On Love. Never give up.

Pondering The Beauty & Ashes

January, what a month you’ve been. As a child and even at the beginning of this month, I always looked forward to you with grimace. Back then you meant work after play and boredom after the fun of Christmas. To me, January has always been the dullest, most boring month of the year.
 
That is, until this January. God likes to surprise us, I guess and He did just that with my month. He gave me joy in a way I’d never experienced it before and it was wonderful. Amidst that beauty, I watched dear friends struggle and I wondered how I could be so happy when they were not. I faced decisions about my future that totally “changed” it and left me wondering where on earth I am going. I had a sad encounter with the rules of the game that hurt me so long ago. There was peace, joy, tears, laughter, love, anger, confusion, and splendor. There was beauty and there were ashes, all at once.
 

I know that I didn’t write much about the specifics of all these events. You’re probably in the dark about most of this, unless you know me personally. The circumstances of this month have been private for the most part. Some of them have been downright confusing. I can tell you that it’s been ugly and bonito at once, like a beautiful rose sprinkled with ash.

And that is where you find me today. I’ve been humbled and changed in just the first month of 2012. Who could have guessed? I certainly didn’t. When I wrote this post about newness, I had no idea that the newness would come so quickly or strangely. Now you find me pondering it all. Today, I’ll read through my books of “sweet everyday things” and diary to find the joy and look out the window at the rain and think on the hardship. I’m pondering the beauty and the ashes.

When We Cannot Catch The Rocks

So, blogging…

I was on such a roll last week. I felt like my blog was going so well! I had too many post ideas to actually post and I felt such a surge of joy to write. I thought for sure I’d have many more, insightful posts this week. But then, on Monday, I was rocked by two different conversations. Suddenly, life was new, strange, sad, and happy all at once.

Life never ends up going like how I imagine it out to be, that’s for sure. Everything is just so different. The vows I made to myself when I was thirteen are long forgotten. Even the promises that I made myself just a few months ago have been thrown out the door. Like I said before, I am changing.

Grief overcomes the world so readily, too. I don’t understand it. It seems so strange and shocking and makes me step back and wonder just one more time about who God is.

Life really is confusing.

I remember when I was about six-years-old or something, I was playing at my babysitter’s house and this boy threw a rock at me. It’s a really vague memory, but I still have this image in my mind. I remember that I couldn’t catch the rock and stop it from hitting me — it just came at me like it was out of control. I felt it pierce my flesh, too. My child-like brain imagined that it went right inside of the skin on my arm. I remember feeling like now that I’d been hit with this rock that it would never go away. I could not catch or stop it.

Sometimes, I feel like rocks are being thrown at me again and I am that same, helpless little child in the backyard. I feel the rock pierce my flesh once more.

There are days when the rock pierces and I cry. Grief overwhelms and the world weeps and everything stops for some. I wish I could prevent the rock so badly in those moments.

At the same time that I feel the sharp rock, a beautiful, coloured one from the beach brushes up against me. It’s beauty stuns me and I blush and grin. Yet these were the things that I once tried to guard myself against. I change and learn and feel so happy that  this time I wouldn’t stop the rock if I could. 

I guess there are just times when life is joy and grief at the same time. Some nights we can choose to cry or laugh. No matter what, the rock, whether sharp or coloured is thrown and we are the child without a choice. So let the rock fall into your flesh and trust the One who threw it.

Who Is God?

Dear God,

Sometimes I just don’t know who you are anymore. Like I still go to church and write on this blog about your grace, but sometimes I have questions. There are nights where I say a simple prayer and try to fall asleep and mornings where I read Wuthering Heights instead of Isaiah. Because sometimes I just wonder, who are you, God?

Last week, I cried a few times. I suffered from insomnia for several nights. I felt exhausted, stressed, and sad. I worried about people I know and things I hope to do. And in all of it, I asked why?

Why can’t I fall asleep?

Why can’t I finish this assignment?

Why can’t I just feel happy all the time?

Who are you, God? Because you really don’t seem to be helping me much right now!

Yeah, I said that. Because sometimes it just feels like I’m having a one-ended conversation with someone who doesn’t even listen. And I wonder what is faith and why do I go to church and who is God?

Now, this is the part in the blog post where I usually write: and then I heard a voice say, “It will be alright…” But I’m not going to lie. This time, there was no voice. At least, none that I could hear. And so I kept asking, who are you, God? And where are you? I need you so much and you’re not there…

But He is. I still can’t hear the voice. But sometimes there is a song. Sometimes, I just start to feel good. I hear a friend say something, I read an inspiring blog or I finally sit down and open Isaiah and I know.

I know that God is good. That He loves me. That His mercy endures forever. God is my hope, no matter what. I trust Him. He inspires me to write these words. He gives me strength to move and live and do brave things. Yes, this is God. He is all these things and more.

Even in the silence and the dullness, God, I know you are there. And I will serve and pray and wait for the Voice. It will come. Yes, of that I am sure. For you are God and you are Good.