Grace dance

Last July, God brought to me another medley in His dance.

In Guatemala, I met someone from Pennsylvania.

That might sound kinda weird and, if so, it’s a good precedent for the Socially Awkward Couple.  If you have ever been worried that you were too unlikable and awkward and strange for anyone to like, worry no more.  I am evidence that you are not.  🙂

Somewhere underneath a waterfall, in a galaxy far far away . .

Ben and I actually first met in the Miami airport.  We were not friends and I did not want to get to know him.  He was cross-stitching, and that seemed very strange to me, and he was wearing all black, and that seemed probably stranger.

The first couple days of the trip went by like this: Any time Ben would sit by me, I would not want him to, but I didn’t say anything, because I have been raised polite.  I didn’t talk to him much . . but there were a couple things that caught my attention about the quality of his character.  Nonetheless, there was no way, no how this was happening.

–But I was intrigued.  Every day, on my way to breakfast, I passed him at the waterfall.  He had a look on his face I couldn’t read, and impossibly gorgeous eyes.  I knew he listened to music on his iPod and scribbled notes by the waterfall.  I took him for the poetic type.  That was nice and all, but I went on and had my breakfast.

One day, I couldn’t get into the computer room at our hotel.  There were only a couple computers, and they were all taken.  Ben volunteered to let me use his computer to email my mom.  There was something just the slightest bit interesting about him.  But I didn’t talk much, and he sure didn’t talk much :), and that was that.

The next day, after a visit with children we sponsored through Compassion International, we had the rest of the day at the hotel to lounge.  Swimming was the big event, but I didn’t have my swim suit.  My roommate was journaling, and so I decided to go around the hotel and take pictures.  I invited Ben along.

It seemed that whatever major we talked about on that walk, we did not agree on but were in flat-out opposition.  I saw this as going nowhere.  End of story.

The next day, one of the older men in our group came to talk to me about Ben . . had I given Ben a look?  I went out of my way to tell everyone who was listening that we were definitely not going to be a couple.  I was not interested; I was not open; and can we not talk about something else?

The rest of that day, I thought a little about it.  It became a bit less wild an idea.  That night, the last night of our trip, at the dinner table, I had two choices.  I knew my two choices mattered.  I could choose to sit in between two of my girl friends on the trip, and leave no room for Ben, or I could sit with an empty seat, and anyone could fill it.

I decided to sit with an empty seat, beside one of my good friends, and see what happened.  It surely wasn’t very likely he would sit right there.

But he did exactly that.

I was a bit flattered, but not serious.  This seemed very unlikely.  From what I knew about him then, I felt that other than the life-changing commonality of our faith in Jesus Christ, we had nothing or nearly nothing in common.  I didn’t even know his testimony at that time, but I imagined he was probably a believer to be going on a mission trip (although of course, I knew I’d have to get to know his heart better as he’d have to get to know mine).

We talked that night, and I don’t know about what, other than that South American sodas use real sugar.  At first, I mostly talked to my girl friend on the right side of me.  But as the night slipped away, I talked to Ben, too.  It was very loud in the restaurant, and not the kind of place to get to know someone.

Our group had a testimony time, and I got up and shared a little about myself and my experience with my child I’d gotten to visit.  I sat back down.  I could see from Ben’s suddenly alert posture, and his bulging eyes, that he was going to get up and say something too.  And I figured he was doing it pretty much in the same way a peacock flares its tail feathers for the peahen to see.

Sure enough, he did get up and share–even though from what little I knew about him, I knew he was going against his disposition to do such a thing.  I was impressed.  Later, during a ridiculous maraca dance, he got up after my Sandra Boynton ballerina dance and did his own dance–it reminded me of headbanging from the early 90’s.  I was even more impressed.

On the bus on the way back, we sat together.  We talked.  I started thinking maybe we did have a little in common.  He prayed for my motion sickness on the bus–not something just anybody would do.  And the thing was, he prayed quietly, and I wouldn’t have known what he was doing, but when he didn’t talk to me for a moment, I realized this was it.  He was amused and compassionate when a piece of debris hit the bus windshield and I screamed (and woke all the nappers on the bus up)–I have an embarrassing startle response.  I don’t even remember when, but sometime that night, he gave me his jacket.

I realized I had his jacket on when I went back to my hotel room.  I thought about returning it to him, but I still wasn’t sure.  Could this really be happening?  I decided to keep the jacket until morning.

In the morning, Ben was extremely tired after several nights of little to no sleep.  We had to wake up at 4:00 I think or 4:30 to make it to the plane on time.  He sat across from me in the lobby.  I gave him the snacks out of the provided packed lunch box that I didn’t want.  That was me starting to flirt.

I also tried to get him to buy me a hummingbird key chain at the airport, because I didn’t have the cash to buy it, but he didn’t pick up on the cues.  On the plane, we had separate seats.  I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  He was so tired I couldn’t pick up on any interest at all.

We stayed together through the passport line back to the U.S.  We ended up being the last two through the line, and everybody had left except two of the mission trip leaders.  We found out we were on separate airlines for our trips home, and I figured if we didn’t eat lunch together, we weren’t meant to be together.

We didn’t eat lunch together, but I didn’t feel the closure I’d hoped.

Over the next couple days, we texted a bit.  I called once.  Ben didn’t talk much on the phone.  I doubted he was very interested in me, or that we had enough in common to even remotely make this work.  But I still didn’t totally outrule it.

Was he serious?  Was I wasting my time?  I decided to give it to Ben straight and find out.  I texted him a clear message asking him his intentions.  He replied that he would pray, and it didn’t sound promising at all.  I don’t know why prayer didn’t sound promising, but I guess it seemed more like a phrase I’ll pray about it than a really I’ll pray about it.

After a night teaching a VBS-like program at my church, I found myself fairly upset.  I turned on the radio and listened to Addison Road Won’t Let Go on my way home.

That even when my heart breaks, everything’s shaken, I’m left alone in the rain, You won’t, You won’t, You won’t let me go!

–Addison Road, Won’t Let Go

I smiled and realized that whether Ben liked me or dumped me, God has never let me go and His love is totally sufficient for me, even if no boy on the planet ever winks an eye my way.

The next day I wasn’t so great, though.  I am a very fragile human being like any other, prone to relapse and self-pity, and I stayed in my pajamas and pouted.  I didn’t know why I felt so depressed, but I did.  It was as if I’d really wanted Ben to date me, when I hadn’t felt that way at all.  I didn’t get what was going on.  We had so little in common, anyway.

And yet when he texted me and asked if he could call, I felt myself slump into grief.  I almost knew he was going to say it wouldn’t work.  I didn’t want to hear his voice reject me.  I didn’t know why it mattered so much to me, but I just didn’t want to hear it.  I told him to just text me, that I didn’t feel up to talking and hearing bad news.

Through a tangle of texts, I started realizing he was not going to tell me he was ready to dump me.  He called me up and read to me a proposal to pursue me.  He had really prayed about it, and he had decided to go forward.

Well, I got up, traded my pajamas for real clothes even though it was already evening, and listened to Me Without You by Tobymac.  No, not me without Ben, but me without God.  

“I’d be packin’ my bags when I need to stay . . I’d be chasin’ every breeze that blows my way . . I’d be buildin’ my kingdom just to watch it fade away . . it’s true! . . that’s me without You.” 

–Tobymac, Me Without You

God really has changed my life from one of madly stuffing suitcases full of nothingness and running away from everything good, only to follow after every breeze of desire, stone by stone constructing a castle out of make-believe that couldn’t even stay upright in my own head.

Within a few days, I felt a need to start fasting and praying about Ben and I.  I wanted to seek God’s will in this.  What did He really want for us?  I fasted evenings–I didn’t know if Ben would join me, but when I told him I was going to, he did.

What I came away with was an overwhelming desire to pray for Ben’s life within God’s Kingdom and on God’s quests.  Whether or not Ben pursued me, whether or not we became a couple, the biggest blessing I could pray for his life was to experience God in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment way.  I got down on my knees and prayed for God’s Spirit to be poured out on Ben.  And I had a confidence that God would answer.

But I was sure surprised when He really did.

Whether or not Ben should continue to pursue me, whether we should be together or apart, whether I should ever hold him in my arms or not . . none of this is one bit as important as the gift of what God is doing in Ben’s life.  In all of my life, I have never seen such a miracle from God, except in how He has changed my own life.

As it turns out, God has gifted Ben and me with the dance of grace.

And we might even dance it together.

Our favorite “together song” is Lord of the Dance.  Ben is a Medieval knight born in the 20th century.  He introduced me to the song–he had it in his random list of songs in his car–and I loved it from the first time I heard it. 

“I am the Lord of the Dance,” said He.  “And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance with Me.”

–Sydney Carter, Lord of the Dance

God really is the Lord of the Dance.  He leads me in the dance of grace.  And He has maybe even given me a partner for the dance.  I feel unworthy to accept the invitation out on the floor.  And yet I find His grace so irresistible, His song so sweet, that I can scarcely help but to leap from the sidelines and join in.

Shout praises to the Lord!
    Praise God in his temple.
    Praise him in heaven,
    his mighty fortress.
 Praise our God!
    His deeds are wonderful,
    too marvelous to describe.

 Praise God with trumpets
    and all kinds of harps.
 Praise him with tambourines
    and dancing,
    with stringed instruments
    and woodwinds.
 Praise God with cymbals,
    with clashing cymbals.
 Let every living creature
praise the Lord.
    Shout praises to the Lord!

(Psalm 150, CEV)

Advertisements

Snowballs in the forest

Do you know how sometimes in fiction the characters, setting, and events are so contrived that something splendidly outlandish happens at the precise moment required for the best reaction possible?

Probably my most favorite of those moments takes place in C.S. Lewis’ Silver Chair.  The following is a creative retelling of that moment.

The children and the marshwiggle have been miles and miles underneath the earth . . having plunged deep into a pit in their escape of man-eating giants and their hunting dogs . . and having met odd underground creatures and being taken captive by order of the serpent queen . . and having freed the nearly mad prince of Narnia, the prince who has been lost for years and years underneath the ground where no mortal Narnian knew to find him . . and after the marshwiggle not putting up with any witchcraft nonsense from the fierce serpent queen . . and after they have slain the serpent queen . . and after the underground began to crumble and shake, all the queen’s witchcraft becoming undone . . now the children, marshwiggle, and prince all fleeing the destruction of the quaking underground realm . . and now all the odd underground creatures, freed from the serpent queen’s spell, leaping down into the deeper caverns where they are really at home . . the deeper caverns with rubies and sapphires you can eat, and rivers of flame, and iridescent gems as big as you please . . and after the children, marshwiggle, and prince decline an offer from one of the odd creatures to explore the deeper caverns (after declining only at the insistence of the child Jill, who does not think it wise to take tea with the underlings in their deep down home even as the crevice to their deep down world closes, not to mention the disastrous flooding of the upper underground world as it all collapses in on itself) . . and at last now at last they have at last come at last to what they hope at last might be an escape hole . . and now the boy and the marshwiggle and the prince boost Jill up . . and now they want to show the lost prince back to Narnia before his father dies . . and whenceupon here and exactly now Jill pops up through the hole and is hit square in the mouth by a snowball.

–As it turns out– the forest creatures in the glorious above world of Narnia are participating in an interpretive snowball dance, the fauns gracefully clopping (I imagine it rather as river-dancing) amidst the dwarves . . and the dwarves throwing snowballs back and forth in as complicated-as-you-please pattern of arching, lobbing them from one dwarf to another, precariously close to all the fauns . . and the fauns fearlessly twirling with their little goat hooves, twittering through the snowy grass . . and the tree nymphs singing along . . and the dwarves still pitching snowballs in their mysterious pattern and still-of-yet not hitting a faun . . and here Jill finds herself–or rather her head, as she’s peering out of the hole–in the midst of it all.

Well, what a way to crash into Narnia!  How splendidly outlandish that it should be during the once-a-year first snow winter dance of the fauns and dwarves, with all the forest animals (including lots of wonderful bears) watching on.  So of course Jill can’t say anything because the snowball is in her mouth, and she’s quite taken aback anyway . . and of course the others (prince, marshwiggle, boy) still underground assume something very terrible has happened to her (especially the marshwiggle presumes something very terrible indeed) . . and of course the snow dance is very officially crashed by the unexpected guests who come pulled up out of the hole by all the talking animals . . and of course the prince is rushed to see his father . . and of course he does . . and of course the children get something warm to drink and blankets piled high and a royal tent for a great sleep . . and of course the dwarves stop throwing the snowballs.

I want to be there.  Coming up out of a hole from a dark underground rule reeking with spell and deception . . to snowballs in a forest (and with the fauns and dwarves and wonderful bears).  I want to be there, and I want to see it all, and I want to add to it.  I want to meet every Narnian creature and shake all their paws and meet a few kings and queens and especially enjoy tea.  I want to hear the silver music and see the snowball trajectories and climb the majestic mountains and twirl around with the fauns and try to make sure they don’t step on my toes with their hooves.

I want the splendidly outlandish thing to happen to me.  I long for adventure–open adventure, not a story already fully written, but a never-ending chapter whose pages go on and on, each one more rich and satisfying and surprising than the one before it.  I want not only to get to hear about the adventure, or even only to tell about the adventure.  I want to be in the adventure.

Am I alone in this?  I don’t think so.  Your longing might not be for snowballs in a Narnian forest, but I bet you have a dream of an adventure where you’d like to be.  It might be in a book you’ve read, a movie you’ve watched, a game you’ve played, or it might even be something in your head that you wish you could make happen.

The longing for adventure is so a part of us humans that we can scarcely oppress it enough to rid ourselves of it.  We are nearly incurably curious beings.  We seem born with a hunger to explore.  We seek out quests of make-believe as children with no one needing to teach us how, only give us time to play.  As we transition from childhood to adulthood, our minds still drift to the ache of adventure.  We thirst for purpose.  We long for that splendidly outlandish thing to happen to us.

But no matter how much make-believe we saturate ourselves with, no matter how much time we inundate ourselves with daydreams, we never feel we quite get what we are stretching so hard to reach.  We long for that next adventure, that bigger adventure, that better adventure, that real adventure.  We, like Bilbo, find ourselves always “quite ready for another adventure.” [1]

God is that adventure.

He is everything you would long for, if you knew how to long for Him.  He is everything your heart would seek, if your heart knew how to seek Him.  The deepest ache that no fantasy can fill is reserved for the reality of God, and will be left empty in your core until you invite Him in.

You cannot in all your imaginings get yourself to Him, because He is not make-believe.  No wishes can beckon Him, no spell can call Him, no imagination can define Him.  He is the real conception of the happily ever after.

God is the real conception of the happily ever after.

He Himself is the adventure you have been waiting to discover.

For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” (Romans 8:15, GNT)

______________________________________________________________________

Scripture taken from the Good News Translation – Second Edition, Copyright 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Photograph by Alex France, profile on http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexfrance/3177786516/in/faves-64933655@N03/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

[1] From Lord of the Rings: Return of the King by New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.