A Story of Dance

f758a6683111d4f45b3041e00e3f1f5bAs a three year old, I would dress up in my mother’s orange sarong and dance around the living room. For as long as I can remember, I have loved to dance. Dance has been a means of joy and expression.

At an early age I learned to dance before an audience. I found pleasure in eliciting a response from those watching. The goal of dance became performance. I still enjoyed dancing alone in my room or dancing with my father, but I began to find my purpose in performing. I participated in two Nutcracker performances, as well as numerous recitals. I compared myself to my fellow dancers. In my strengths I found pride and in my inadequacy I found discontentment. As I look back now, I can see that I was headed down a destructive road of selfishness.

My world of dance changed in 5th grade. Because of my youngest sister’s birth, my parents opted not to have me continue ballet. The practices, rehearsals, and performances were becoming too big of a commitment for a growing family. Although at the time I was thankful to be removed from my strict Russian teachers, I found myself regretting the decision over the next few years. I felt almost purposeless without performance. And it felt as though my dreams of dancing professionally had been dashed against the floor.

The following year I started taking lessons again. A few friends were dancing with Children of the Light, a Christian dance ministry, and my parents and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to continue dancing without the high level of commitment. My first lesson was tough – I still remember being totally self-consumed and feeling the need to prove myself. That whole year I felt as though I needed to be better than everyone else. The “performances” frustrated me because we weren’t performing; we were serving by dancing in nursing homes, churches, and shopping malls. I felt embarrassed to invite friends and family, because the dances and venues were so different than what they had seen before. Where were the over-priced tickets? The huge stages? The drive for perfectionism? All my concerns and fears were wrapped in myself.

Although I continued to dance with Children of the Light, I also continued to feel prideful, self-consumed, and uncomfortable. I felt as though I didn’t connect with the other dancers. It wasn’t until 9th grade that I started to feel at home. I remember going to an anniversary event for the ministry and hearing alumni speak about the impact COTL had on their lives. As I sat out in the crowd, I clearly remember thinking to myself, “This is where I belong.” Little did I realize how true that statement would become over the next few years.

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I can’t put my finger on how or why the change occurred. What I do know is that God was working in my heart. The summer after 9th grade, I participated with a few fellow COTL dancers in an outreach project in Washington DC called Project Dance. We prepared two dances during a weeklong summer intensive. Then over the weekend, we joined with hundreds of other dancers to reach out to the DC locals and tourists through dance. All day on Saturday we presented our various dances beside the Washington Monument. That week changed my life. I know that sounds cliché, but the statement is completely true. I was planning on not continuing COTL in the fall. I thought I would take a break, since I didn’t feel especially connected to anyone in the ministry. But that week I became so close with a few of the dancers. When I was working and sweating with these girls, I got to know them as individuals and as sisters in Christ. I didn’t want to leave after that week. I wanted to know these girls better and better and share every Friday night with them.

Wow. God was so faithful. The next two years I went through a period of anxiety and depression. I felt alone and like I didn’t fit in. But those ladies were there every Friday night. During a period when I felt separated from my church, I relied on them for support. Children of the Light became more than simply a group of dancers—it became family.

The next year, my junior year, I was asked to serve on the leadership team with the seniors. That year stretched me and challenged me. My friendships became even stronger. Then my senior year, I was asked to head the leadership team with one of my best friends. We were able to work together towards accomplishing a dream of ours . If I had stepped away after that first dance lesson, after that first year, or after 9th grade, I would have missed out on some of the best moments of my life. I would not have been given the opportunities to grow, lead, and dream. But most importantly, I would not be the person I am today.

3c95cc7db21b0216089027cf59aad18cChildren of the Light developed me not only as a dancer, but also as a follower of Jesus Christ. By teaching me that dance is not about me, I learned to look past myself. I learned how to serve others and to reach the heartbroken. I also learned to be myself. When I realized that dance was an expression of worship, I lost the need to perform or to be perfect. Instead, I became confident in who I was in Jesus. My dance director and teacher, Miss Jeannine, taught me what my purpose is—to love God and serve others. I now have a passionate desire to see the Kingdom of God in action on Earth.

Through my positions of leadership, I have learned the importance of relationship building and encouragement. I have been given opportunities to disciple other dancers, as I was discipled, and to put into practice the skills I learned. Being a part of Children of the Light has also allowed me to discover some of my gifts and passions. Doing a senior project allowed me to explore my interests with the purpose of furthering Christ’s kingdom. I have uncovered a passion for powerful and effective communication. I have also found a passion for advocacy.

More than anything, Children of the Light has taught me to pray hard and dream big. I know that God desires to give His children the delights of their hearts, and when we seek His will, He will direct our delights to His. As His children, we can approach His throne with boldness, knowing that He is all-powerful. God can be trusted. Being in a leadership role placed me in many overwhelming situations, but I came to realize that God was always in control. He worked beyond my wildest dreams to accomplish His goals. Wow.

As my parents drove me to dance every Friday night and took me to many spontaneous rehearsals and far-away outreaches, they may not have realized the eternal impact that their dedication was having (I certainly did not). I am so incredibly thankful that God closed the door to ballet seven years ago. The plans He had were far better than anything I could have imagined. While the need to compare myself and be perfect still threatens to overcome, I know where my identity lies. And I have learned that dancing is far more than performing. Dance has the power to change hearts and glorify God. Dance is Worship.

– – Phebe

*photo creds: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/348747564866589062/ and http://www.childrenofthelightdancers.org and http://www.pinterest.com/pin/545287467355954607/

More Than a Bruise

“Write while the heat is in you. … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”

—Henry David Thoreau

And so, I write. Because the heat is still alive within me.

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This past week I went to summer camp with my church. I know, I’m a graduate, but I couldn’t resist spending more time with my amazing church youth group. Plus this is the first time my brother and I have done an overnight event with the church, so his attendance put some indirect pressure on me too. Even though my summer is crazy busy, the time was so worth it. Since I could spend pages and pages and pages summarizing all that happened, here are 12 things that I learned at camp—in no particular order.

#1: The river is my happy place. I knew I loved the river from canoeing and tubing on various camping trips, and that love was confirmed. On Tuesday I went whitewater-rafting. Rafting was a new experience, and I fell in love…again… The river is such a beautiful analogy for life: the bumps, danger, and twists are accompanied by serenity and security. I feel at home fighting to overcome the rapids, calmly floating down the river, and reveling in the surrounding nature.

#2: Powerful worship doesn’t need to be fancy. In fact, the most powerful worship is often the most simplistic. Two individuals, a vocalist and a guitarist, led camp worship. That was all it took to lead me into some of the most sincere worship I’ve experience. I felt God’s presence strong and close during the past week. Praising Him in the company of other believers is a taste of the Kingdom of God.

#3: Even at church camp, teenagers will be teenagers. Not that I expected any differently. There’s drama, bullying, and stupidity. Young love wafts through the air. I was once again reminded how frustrating humanity is. Yet it is a good reminder that we are all broken people in need of a Savior.

#4: There is hope for humanity. The above statement contradicts the last one. While I was frustrated (“frustrated-frustrated”) by people at camp, some of the young people I met greatly encouraged me. Middle schoolers worship the Lord with passion. New high-schoolers have deep thoughts on deep issues. God is changing hearts and using His children. I met people of conviction, who are respectful and thoughtful. Yes, the next generation doesn’t look so bad after all. I want to be a part.

#5: My brother is cool dude. When Forrest and I went to camp together six years ago, it was a painful and traumatic experience. Yet God completely redeemed that situation. Forrest gained new friends (including some of my friends). He made me proud through his sense of adventure, his athletic skill, and his humor. And when we returned home, Forrest announced that he wanted to stay for another three weeks!

#6: People are watching. During the week we had an opportunity to write encouraging “Warm Fuzzies” to our fellow campers. I think most people were surprised at some of the people who wrote them and the messages they received. The truth is that people are watching. It’s a poignant reminder to be careful about our words and actions. all. the. time.

#7: I am more than a bruise. During the whitewater-rafting excursion, I jumped off a huge rock into the water and landed in a seated position. The force burst blood vessels along my thighs, and I have massive bruises on my legs. Not only are they painful, but they are also just plain ugly. I fell prey to complaining about the bruises’ presence. At the end of the week, I received a “Warm Fuzzie” from a friend reminding me of my identity in Christ. She wrote at the end, “Now stop feeling self-conscious. I simply forbid it.” We all need a little honesty in our lives.

#8: Living life on the edge is worth the risk. I went rappelling for the first time on Thursday. Sometimes I do well with heights; sometimes I don’t. So I was a bit apprehensive. But God gave me incredible peace and confidence as I leaned back and descended down the ninety-foot cliff. I could have this peace knowing that I was secure in the harness. The same goes for my relationship with God. Sometimes I need to step out of my safe perch and take a risk. I can have peace knowing that I can trust God to take care of me. Trusting in the rope allows me to have faith to step off the cliff. Trusting in God allows me to have faith to step off into the unknown.

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#9: Contentment comes from being who God created me to be. I struggled all throughout high school with simply being myself, and as a result, I was lonely and unhappy. As I became more comfortable in my own skin, I felt happier and more accepted. And the past week was proof. I didn’t care how people saw me. I took risks. I laughed—a lot. I joked around with people. I met new friends and renewed old friendships. I worshipped with my whole heart. I didn’t wear makeup and I sweated—a lot. I was “me” in my rawest form, and I was perfectly content.

#10: God continues to inspire through visions. My friend, Ellie, shared a vision she had during worship that inspired me. She said that she was in a boat on the ocean and she could see Jesus in the distance. She climbed out of the boat to swim towards Him. The others in the boat tried to convince her that they would reach Jesus eventually but she was not persuaded. Despite the waves, she continued to swim towards Him. The truth is that when we focus on the waves, we can only see how far we have to go. We are caught up in the struggle. When we focus on Jesus’ face, we see our end goal and have hope. It doesn’t matter how you swim; it only matters that you reach Jesus by persevering. Others may say that we’ll reach Heaven eventually and can live for Jesus when we get older, but we desire to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth tangibly right now.

#11: I can be an example by living a life of conviction. 1 Timothy 4:12 says, And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity,” (MSG). Next year I will be on a college campus with intelligent secular professors and peers. However, by staying committed to church, Bible study, prayer, and morality, I can live a life that shows others that I am a Christian in deed and not just in word. Our speaker this week spoke about living a life of conviction. Because we are saved by and through the Word of God, we should live the Christian life by and through the Word of God. Christianity is not a banner; Christianity is a lifestyle. This is my challenge to myself as I enter the lion’s den next year. I will be tested, but God has equipped me.

#12: Given the opportunity, teenagers will rise to the occasion. The world considers teenagers lazy, indifferent, and unmotivated. I would argue that teenagers just aren’t given enough opportunities to be more than themselves. This week I saw teenagers rooting for each other, coming up with creative cheers, sharing openly in small groups, and praying over friends. I witnessed them standing up for and intentionally encouraging people they didn’t even know. That is the power of Christ at work.

– – Phebe