Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Let's Dance

Tom and I went to his cousin's wedding last weekend.  It was good to see his family, parts of his family that we haven't seen much of since before we were married.  Cousins, aunts and uncles, old friends.  It was good to reconnect.

Weddings bring out the best in his family; in particular, they highlight the marked difference between his family and mine.  His family has a definite flair for fun.  They know how to be silly, they love to laugh, and especially, they love to dance.  (They also love to drink.  All a part of their charm!)  What struck me especially this weekend, however, was the dancing.

I cannot dance.  I am stiff.  There is nothing more to say about it.  It breaks my heart.  I wish I weren't stiff; I wish I could let go and move with the music in a beautiful way, but I cannot.

Tom is so good about this.  He knows it's an embarrassment to me, so he doesn't usually pressure me and just dances with other people while I watch.  But at this wedding, he pulled me out onto the dance floor during a slow song, and I discovered that I can dance as long as I'm attached to him.  Only then can I begin to taste the joy of moving with the music.

Beatriz and I have been reading the book, Captivating, by John and Stasi Eldredge.  There is so much to say about that book.  But if you will allow me to skip over all its weighty wonder and get right to the heart of it, chapters 7 and 8 with the discussion of God as a romancer and a lover... I must say...  I've got to say...if I could even bring myself to dare to entertain the audacious idea that Jesus wants to...that Jesus really does love me that much, and does love me like that...if I could ever hope or dare to even imagine such a thing, I'll tell you what I want...

I want to dance with Him.

In a beautiful, forested glade, His right arm around my waist and His left hand holding my right; I want His face close to my face and His eyes locked with my eyes; I want to feel His breath on my cheek, feel His lips brush against mine, and hear Him whisper that I am His.  I want to hear the beautiful music and fly with Him through the clearing in graceful, breathless circles, His hand on the small of my back guiding my steps.  I want to be one with the music and one with Him at the same time, lost in the wonder of His love for me.

Why do I recoil at the thought of Him wanting to dance with me, of Him loving me, that much, and that way?  I am both ashamed at my inability to accept His love, and yet also ashamed at the thought of accepting it, because I am so unworthy.  I am so ugly.  The thought of Him with the likes of me is horrible, revolting.  It's Beauty and the Beast, except with gender reversal:  He is the Beauty and I am the Beast.

I know all the verses.  1 John 1:7, Romans 8:1, Galatians 3:26-27, Colossians 3:3-4, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Peter 1:3.   No kidding, there is ample proof in the New Testament that I am washed clean in Jesus' blood.  If I am able to stand before Him at all, it is because in Jesus, through Jesus, because of Jesus, I am worthy; I am clean; I am not ugly.  My head knows these things; my heart is obtuse.

My problem with the New Testament (and I emphasize, this is my problem, not the N.T.'s problem!) is that its truths find their way into my soul in intellectual garb.  I read them as coldly clinical, analytical, dispassionate.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.   Colossians 3:3-4  

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.   Romans 8:1 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...   1 Peter 1:3

Statements of fact.  I will not be condemned.  I have been born again to a living hope.  When Christ returns, I will appear with Him in glory.  I'm really glad for all those things, wouldn't trade them for anything.

But my woman's soul cries out for more than this.  I am desperate for His love. 

Well, hello?  He sent His Son to die for me on a cross, just so I would be saved from eternal damnation!  Isn't that enough love for me?

Yeeessss, of course.  Yet my heart cries for more.  My heart aches for passion.  My heart aches to know that my salvation is more than me just choosing the right train at the depot.  Now that I write it, I realize that I've blogged about this before.  Passionate Barnacle...something like that.  I wanted to know that I wasn't getting into heaven on a zoo family pass, as if Jesus said, "Well, if I'm going to die for the ones I like, it doesn't cost Me any more to die for the ones I don't like too."  Efficient and pragmatic.  (I feel like crying as I type that, even though I know I'm making a joke!  But it is a sick joke, isn't it?)

So where do the Eldredges get their ideas about this outrageous love and romance?   Well, I don't know about the Eldredges, but I know that I understand God's love best from the Old Testament.  Just a cursory sampling:

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel:  "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you... Because you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.  Fear not, for I am with you.   Isaiah 43

For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.  In overflowing anger for a moment I hid My face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the Lord, you Redeemer. ... For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the Lord, who has compassion on you.  Isaiah 54

For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more.  He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry.  As soon as He hears it, He answers you.  And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.  Isaiah 30

The Lord you God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;  He will rejoice over you with gladness;  He will quiet you by His love;  He will exult over you with loud singing.  I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach.  Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.  And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes," says the Lord.    Zephaniah 3

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.  The more they were called, the more they went away; the kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.  Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.  I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.   Hosea 11

I'm sure these are not the "best" examples, or the classic verses.  I literally just opened my Bible and flipped through the Old Testament.  Verses about God's love just jumped off the page everywhere I turned!

He does love me with the passion I crave.  I have to believe He is the one who put that craving into my soul in the first place.

And I do believe that someday I will dance with Him, maybe in just that way.  It won't be at a cousin's wedding though, will it?  It will be at my own: my wedding with my King.

Good, not Great

I was greatly encouraged by something Beth Moore said in my Bible study the other week, and it has stuck with me.  To paraphrase (because I'm too lazy to go look it up), seek to do something good; don't worry about great, just something good.

As I've struggled with what qualifies as retirement from my job as a full-time, taxi-service, home school, ballet mom, I have been discovering that opportunities to do good abound, so I need not despair.  I don't need a "calling," or a job, or a ministry.  I just need to wake up every day ready to do good.  And as I sit at the kitchen table with my pen and post-it note, ready to write my to-do list for the day, I find the list grows long, every day.  So far, no day has gone by that did not have a full list.

This full list was actually a source of great irritation to me before this epiphany, because it represented a full day of distractions from that illusive greatness that surely must be waiting for me, if only I had the time to track it down.  But then when I occasionally found myself alone in an evening with no pressing commitment, panic would set in as I was forced to face the void.

Nope, no greatness knocking at my door; no ministry, no calling, no job prospects, no business opportunity.  Crickets.  I would panic, and get very grumpy with God.  He was supposed to reveal my long-awaited glory to the world now that I had time to develop it!  Where are You, God???

Well, maybe He is hiding in my to-do list of "good" (not great) chores.

I have also realized that plain old, dogged cheerfulness is way under-rated.  As I've pondered what I want my retirement years to look like, who I want to be for my children and future children-in-law and grandchildren, I believe that good, old-fashioned cheerfulness figures heavy in the equation.  But not the fake stuff; only the real deal will do, and that comes from spending time with my Savior.  Just sitting and basking in His love and His beauty.  That's what I have more time for now that my kids don't need me so much.  And that is the legacy I want to leave for them.

Lastly, and related to cheerfulness, I want to have energy and health to serve them and others, which means keeping my weight down and getting to the gym regularly.  Not to go ninja and run marathons or anything; just to have the energy to help them with whatever they need down the line, whether that would be baby-sitting, making them food, doing holidays, helping them clean or move...whatever.

So, that's all I have to say on the subject.  It's been a good crisis, and I thank you for allowing me to share it with you.  But I have to run now.  My to-do list of good is calling!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fairy Tales

So, my daughter, Ivy, is in love.  Actually, she has been in love for a year now, but only in the past week or so have she and her sweetheart begun to spend time together in a way that would be considered "dating."  I have to be honest: I have had a lot of fun watching this little love story come to life.  Its evolution has been painfully slow, but now that it has begun to unfold, it is exquisitely sweet.

I had a conversation with a friend last week about love and romance.  This friend is a committed Christian, but she has been married twice herself.  Her first husband was not a believer and devastated her when he chose to divorce her; she is married now to a solid Christian man.

But what she said about romance surprised me:  She said she did not believe in love stories.  Those were her exact words.  She is in a position to counsel younger women, and one woman she mentors agonizes over finding a husband.  My friend points out one young man after another to this girl as prospects, but the girl doesn't find any of them interesting.  "Why don't you like this guy?" she asks, "He's very nice!"  But the girl is not attracted to any of these very nice guys, and my friend finds that frustrating.

Her attitude is that marriage is a choice;  we make a choice about who to marry, and we make daily choices to keep our marriage together:  to love, to honor, to be kind, to be sacrificial, etc.  Yep, can't argue with that.  But in her world, that adds up to not believing in love stories.

In that moment, I tried not to allow my mind to ponder what that meant about how she ended up married to her current husband, although a frightful scenario flashed through my mind.  Did she choose him like she might choose a slab of meat for a Sunday pot roast?  That seemed to be what she was advocating.  (Although I do think better of my friend than that; I'm sure that is not how she chose her current husband.)

Well, I do believe in love stories.  I love a good love story.  Not fictional ones, only real ones.  And Ivy and Josiah, so far, have been exactly that.

She met him last year when she was invited to be the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker Ballet for another studio.  This studio didn't have a dancer who could handle the role, and so she was honored with the invitation.  She showed up at the first rehearsal and met Josiah, who would dance the role of Sugar Plum's Cavalier.

He asked her once at some point during the year (via text) if she believed in love at first sight.  She didn't know how to respond and asked me, "Mom, what do I say to that?"  I thought her quandary was a little funny, because the truth of the matter was that, at that early stage of their friendship, she could not admit to him how much she liked him upon first sight, and she only liked him more and more with every passing rehearsal.  It is as close to love at first sight as I have ever known!

You know that line, "You had me at 'hello'?"  Well, Josiah very well may have had her at 'hello,' but I suspect he definitely had her after the first rehearsal when she took off her pointe shoe and revealed a bloody spot on her tights where her foot had been rubbed raw by the shoe.  He was upset and said with an uncanny blend of kind concern and irritation, "I told you to tell me if your feet were hurting!"  Wow.  Good start, kid.  I mean, really.  Did someone give this boy a manual on how to win girls?

But.  (Every love story has to have a 'But,' right?)   He is a solid four years older than she is, which is huge when you're 16.  So, while she had the strong impression he really liked her before the whole Nutcracker was done, he didn't initiate with her after that.  After that last performance she didn't have any more reason to be at his studio, and he didn't take that step of establishing a friendship with her outside of their role together in the ballet.

For me as her mom, Ivy's crush on Josiah was a boon.  Ever since Ivy was 12 or so, boys have buzzed around her like flies.  I lived in constant dread of the next boy to come along who would begin texting her incessantly.  She would roll her eyes and say, "MOOOOMMMM!!!  (Fill in the blank) doesn't LIKE me!  We're just friends!"  Right.  "He's just going through something now and needs someone to talk to!"  Okay, sure.  "Mom!  You're impossible!"

But once she set her heart on Josiah, no other boy stood a chance, and I could breathe a sigh of relief.  Between January and June, he would shoot her a text every once in a while, and they would have a brief conversation.  I wish I could have videotaped her reactions when a text from him would come through -- her joy was palpable, infectious, and hilarious all at once!  They would have a brief little exchange, and then she would wait, wait, wait, sometimes for weeks before he would text again.  It was a little odd, and I can only guess what was going on on his end of things -- maybe he thought she was too young for him, maybe there were other girls he was interested in.  One week in August they spent every afternoon together because he had a ballet intensive in our city with a three hour break in the afternoons.  Even after that week, however, Ivy still wouldn't let herself believe he actually liked her.  (Which was totally baffling to me.  Of course he likes you, honey!  Are you waiting for him to rent a billboard?)   From her perspective, it was too much to hope for.

Eventually, maybe by September, they began to text more frequently, and a true friendship was established.  Even then, she didn't have any confidence he liked her, although as a middle-aged woman, I know that a straight boy has no other reason to text any girl that much.

Only now, late October, Josiah finally told Ivy that he did, indeed, like her, and she confessed to feelings for him as well.  Like...duh?  Hasn't this been obvious for a year now?  But isn't that what a love story is all about?  The waiting, the hoping, the uncertainty, the thrill of excitement when mutual love is finally revealed?, what's the point?  (Hell-LOOO?  This a love story.  Isn't that enough of a point?)

Well, I'm not sure what the point is, except that I do believe in love stories and I think they are a wonderful thing.  What a sad state of affairs if marriage were just about choosing an acceptable partner, and then stoically making it work from there.

Who created love stories?  God, our Father did, that's who.  And what does that say about Him?  I think He believes in love stories too.  Is that me re-creating God in my own image?  I don't think so.  (Besides, He created me in His image, remember?)  You can't read Song of Solomon and come to that conclusion.

My daughter, Beatriz, calls me everyday so we can pray together.  She asked me to pray with her every day for two things:  her weight and her future husband.  And every day she asks God for a love story.  (sigh)  Isn't that sweet?

Bea is a completely different person from Ivy.  I say these two sisters define each other by being each other's opposites.  If you know Ivy, you know Bea: just reverse everything you know about Ivy, and you have Bea.

To start, Bea has some grit in her personality.  I do pray that God will answer her prayers and give her a love story; I trust that He will.  But her partnership will look quite different from Ivy's.  The man who falls in love with Bea will have to either be milquetoast and let her run roughshod over him, or be kick-butt strong and give her a little what-for every once in a while.  I don't know if she could handle any what-for at this point, and I know she would despise a weak man who let her run over him.  Even though she and I are praying, she says she isn't ready for a relationship yet.  Maybe she is right.  (Or maybe she is afraid, bless her sweet baby heart.  But that's another post.)

Ivy, on the other hand, is the quintessential Disney princess.  And I don't mean a modern Disney princess, like Mulan,  or Elsa and Anna from Frozen; I mean a classic princess like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.  Ivy loves to look pretty; she is soft and sweet, accommodating to a fault, fundamentally feminine.  And from what I've seen of Josiah, he has a lot of the classic fairy tale hero qualities.  He is protective, always concerned that she eat enough, that her feet don't hurt, that she has water, that they aren't pushing too hard in rehearsals; he won't let her pay for anything or open her own car door.  He even walks with something of a swagger -- not what you might have expected from a ballet dancer, but there you have it.

Maybe that is why this pair has captured my heart.  They are just so fairy tale!

The funny thing about fairy tales though, and most love stories, is that they end right about here.  You wait breathlessly for two hours or 280 pages for the starry-eyed lovers to find each other, and then they do, and it's over.  The credits play, or you've reached the end of the book.  You don't get to see the rest of the story.  But in real life, the starry-eyed lovers finally finding each other is the beginning, not the end, right?

So maybe the fairy tale ends here and real life begins.  Real life will include testing the boy's spiritual mettle and moral convictions, at least.  As a red blooded 20-year-old boy, it will be tough to wait for  a 16-year-old girl.  Will he be willing to wait?  Tom is no fan of any boy who has an interest in Ivy at this point, but especially one who is four years her senior!  All this talk of fairy tale heroes will in no way impress him.  He was a 20-year-old boy himself once and knows full well what dangerous creatures they are.  Dominic, Ivy's protective older brother, is on the same page.  So we have some choppy waters ahead.

But I'm glad it began with a fairy tale, with a true love story.  My friend is wrong.  Love stories do exist, and they are glorious.

New Names

I have decided, for the purposes of this blog, to give my best people new names.  Except Tom.  He is one of my best people, but he does get to keep his unpretentious, simple, strong, masculine name, just because it's so common, and it suits him so perfectly.  My purpose in hiding the kids' names has always only to protect their privacy if anyone were ever to read the blog.  =P

So here are my (new) children!  In order of birth:

Dominic, or Dom
Beatriz, or Bea
Reed, and

Aren't they nice names?!  Ivy has always been L in previous posts, Dominic has been D, Beatriz has been B and Reed, R.  Very awkward all around, so I'm ridiculously thrilled with this new plan.  (Ridiculous being the operative word...) 

And I will remain your faithful friend, All Bark.