My knees ached and my spirit hurt for a while. Let me explain how this happened.
With great excitement, I went to church on Christmas Eve. All day. I got there at 6.30am and was set to be there until after my part in the last service at 11pm – so going home at around 11.10pm. I had the privilege of being able to dance in each of the eight Christmas Eve Services at our new-to-us church family – Calvary Community Church in Sumner, WA, USA.
I had told the world (well my bubble of friends and family on facebook) how happy I was that after almost 7 years of living in this country, I was finally able to dance in the worship section of a church service – something that I had not been able to do since Christmas Day 2010, two days before moving from the UK to here in the US. I had waited patiently as we had not made being able to dance or not part of the criteria for finding a church family but rather heart for the gospel mission and God’s word. Events this past year made finding a new local church in which to serve not only an act of loyalty but one of obedience. We have never been in that situation before! In spite of being excited to see some other fellowships in action I found that church shopping in the summer is a miserable experience! We found Calvary, and both of us have been challenged by the preaching and impressed by the heart of the leadership. So after deciding to continue there I spoke to the worship leader about the possibility of dance in the worship or even ministry setting. This was new for them but I was asked to dance to the final minute of one song at the opening of the Christmas Eve service. I couldn’t stop smiling!
For an Audience of One.
I was told that there would likely be 5,000 people pass through the doors on Christmas Eve. I’ve danced in worship and in performance at events bigger than this before so I was not daunted but since I had not done this for a while I needed to make doubly sure my heart was right. I have just finished performing in and co-directing/choreographing a production of The Nutcracker with the dance studio where I teach ballet. I got to be the Grandma and provided a little comic relief in a story that whilst being timeless (and one of my personal favorite things) can seem to be eternal for those wonderful families that support us year after year! This was not that. Dancing in a production involves putting on a persona, acting. Dancing in worship requires authenticity – it’s me and God – no walls. There is a real dichotomy here when dancing for Jesus as my audience of one (fao1.com) but in front of others who are also worshipping that same audience of one. Dancing and singing and music can lead others into the presence of God, who it is all for, yet others are also watching. Ephesians 5:19 describes it well in the context of music and spoken worship. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” We stir one another up with truths about God to worship Him in our hearts. Dance and movement can do this without words – God created us all uniquely with various learning and communication styles and he uses them all. Psalms 149 and 150 instruct us to praise the Lord with dancing and David, a man after the Lord’s heart (1 Sam 13:14), danced freely before God in front of all the people, causing quite a stir (2 Samuel 6)! So this was to be for God, and to God and through him – he gave me this ability, but in front of people. It was to be my Christmas gift to him since I come this year with empty hands but a full heart. He had even answered a prayer of mine very recently to be able to give something to our boys for Christmas. A full and happy heart!
Next was how to choose what to dance. I prayed about it and listened to the music. “Angels we have Heard on High”, the For King and Country version. I was instantly hit with the idea of God’s glory and pictured my “fire ribbons.” When in the air they move like liquid gold. Also using ribbons would remove some of the attention from me and place it on the lines being drawn in space. Kind of valid but I would have danced without a prop if it was what was called for. In my part of the song, I had a substantial instrumental section and then the words I had to work with apart from the overall gist of the carol were, “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the newborn king.” I choreographed a grand jeté to land on my knees and put a few knee falls and kneels in there for good measure, while I thought about what it means to bow the knee to the creator of the universe who chose to physically enter our world starting as a baby in the process of his rescue mission for humanity.
Jon was going to drop me at church in time for the warm-up at 6.30am, he would work on his computer until the first service at 9am and stay for it. He would then go home and get started on the list of Christmas Eve to-dos he asked me to write for him and the boys when they got up. Then, later, they would all come to the 9pm service and wait around after til 11.10pm when I would be finished with the 11pm service. We would all go home in time for midnight to wish each other Merry Christmas and drink a hot cocoa each (chocolate block and marshmallow on a teaspoon) that my friend had given us for Christmas.
It didn’t quite go that way.
During rehearsals I always wear my leg warmers for safety – I’m no spring chicken and need to protect my muscles. A couple of times the knee falls went down onto rolls of my leg warmer. Normally this would make for a soft landing but not when you land that hard – it was like landing on a wooden dowel and so I got a little bruised – par for the course for a dancer – along with floor burns on my feet that I got from improvising on the carpet during the Thursday evening music and tech rehearsal. So I started out the day on Christmas Eve with a couple of owwies but that was fine and not even a real issue so long as the tape kept my foot covered on the platform. My biggest physical concern for the day was making sure I warmed up properly each and every time and didn’t re-ignite an injury on my left foot. God answered that prayer 🙂
Each service came and went and whilst the intended choreography was the same, each time was a little different. Sometimes I got the ribbons a little tangled but they always straightened out again (bar one time). One time I got too near the edge of the platform and felt the ribbon catching on something – it was a guy in the front row! I mouthed, “sorry,” stepped back and … forgot the choreography! Thankfully I was able to continue in worship until the end, making it up as I went.
The green room is fitted with a tv screen and a speaker so you can see and hear the service but it feels removed. I sat there for the first meeting so I could take notes during the message.
It was a message told through the pastoral staff at the church at various stages of life – newlywed, new parents, growing family, and grandparents, of love, joy, hope, and peace. Christ’s love in what he did for us (1John 4:9). The joy we are filled with that gets us through every situation, no matter how hard (Ecc3:1-8). Hope – that the God who has started something in you will carry it through to completion – God’s got this (Phil1:6)! And the peace that only Christ can give (Isaiah 9:6, John 14:27) – the peace that we find in every situation that allows us in the midst of all the noise to be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). It ended with the question, “Where are you Christmas?” and the answer – it’s found in Jesus!
After hearing the message the first time, I discovered a wonderful place to be during the meeting – at the very side of the platform, joining in with the worship and partaking in the experience. It reminded me of the verse that says that it’s better to spend a day in the house of God than a thousand elsewhere! I was reveling in this but try as I might I couldn’t find the verse between services and other distractions. At the side of the stage I met some wonderful people. The musicians – so humble and talented all in one go, the speakers and presenters, keeping each and every service fresh and as if it were the only time they would do this – not one meeting came across stale! The children. I was particularly impressed with one little guy who helped with the candle lighting at the end of the meeting. He confided in me as he re-arranged the bar stools to make a transition easier, that he just wanted to serve God the best he could! And then I don’t know who they are, but the people that kept us fed were amazing. I had made myself a vegetable pizza the day before so I would not have to try to find food but it was less that appetizing after sitting for the morning in my bag! Not only was food provided but it was good food! This dance was high energy and the food was very welcome! And it started snowing! The snow started to settle. Christmas Eve really just kept on getting better! And some good friends were able to come to a couple of the services so it was lovely to catch-up and visit with them between the services – such a blessing!
There was an overflow room because the services were so packed. I gave a text to Jon and the boys to try to get there early enough to be in the main meeting room, then got on with warming up for the 9pm. I was about to head backstage and had a look at my phone. 2 missed called and 3 texts from Jon! He had come off the road and gone into a ditch. I tried to call him but he couldn’t hear me. He texted that he would walk to the police station. There was nothing I could do. I went backstage and waited to go on. I tried not to worry and handed it to Jesus and offered him the sacrifice of this dance as an offering to him. My intro started and I ran onto the platform. After the first four counts I remembered to smile. It was thin and shallow but I did smile – God’s glory is still real, Jesus still gave his all for me. I wasn’t feeling it but the truth was still the truth. I was still able to dance! I failed to move the ribbons with enough energy however, and managed to get them tied around my neck. None of the “tricks” were working to untie myself so I had to resort to using my hands to remove the fabric from around my neck. I got up and finished the dance. I did not stay at the side of the platform. I brought my ribbons back to the green room, fully expecting to have to leave. It was going to be ok though. Jon had arranged a tow but I would have to get a ride home at the end of the day. So the boys would not get to go to church at Christmas this year. We would likely have a very expensive bill. We would not be together at midnight. I had prayed for travelling safety as well! The truth is though that had Jon not gone into a ditch, he and the boys would have gone into a very busy highway and would very likely have been hurt or worse! I remembered Pastor Adam’s words about God’s got this. I bucked up and got on with the task at hand. Thankfully Alicia offered me a ride home so I got on with warming up for the final service. Warming up was hard – emotionally and physically – everything ached and I had less drive, I wanted to see Jon and the boys but I also wanted to do a good job. I got my phone out to check how he was, fumbled it and dropped it on the floor. The phone died. I should have been upset but I felt nothing. There was nothing left to do but carry on.
I think the last service was amazing. God is good, all the time. I was exhausted though. I finally got home just before one am on Christmas Day. Jon looked exhausted and I had to tell him I broke my phone! I looked at my knees and I had managed to graze one of them through my dance leggings!
As I gazed down at my knee and foot I was reminded of the boys when they were younger – full of the scars of adventure! But I have to admit to spending most of Christmas Day in a bit of a funk! I had been so glad to thank God for answered prayers and didn’t understand why we now had all this added expense and why we couldn’t have had that moment together with the hot chocolate. I had to keep telling myself, “God’s got this.” And he has. I felt led to write this now rather than later. I’m determined to be in a place of love, hope, joy, and peace as he leads us into 2018, and so today I found it. Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O LORD Almighty
My Soul longs and even faints,
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,
O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you. Selah
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, O God of Jacob. Selah
Look upon our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
O LORD Almighty,
blessed is the man who trusts in you.
This word is true. It was SO GOOOOOOD to spend a whole day in church worshipping Jesus! It was the highlight of my year! Do my circumstances change the reality or truth of who he is in my life? No, absolutely not but…
sometimes it makes my knees hurt.