Friday, October 30, 2015

A Dystopian Tango

A few weeks ago, I was watching Dancing with the Stars for switch-up week. A contestant named Alexa had blanked on part of her performance the week before, suffering a dip in scores, and she felt discouraged when her partner Mark kept telling her she might be eliminated. But she got a new partner (Derek) for the switch-up, who told her she could overcome her fears. She believed him, and with his help, scored the first perfect straight 10s of the season.

This kind of thing happens often over the seasons of the show. Some troubling event will spark a contestant to fight back and perform beyond what they dreamed possible. What made this particular dance so meaningful to me? Why did I watch it at breakfast the next day with tears in my eyes?

I asked myself those questions as I kept replaying the song in my head. The lyrics of Pompeii by Bastille go like this:

I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above
But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this? 

Even from the first 2 lines of the song, I felt it echo words I've used for years to describe chronic illness - the long days on the couch or in bed, the helplessness and the powerlessness, the failed attempts to soothe my aching soul with things of this world. And the walls of my family that kept tumbling down as my grandma slowly deteriorated, as my dad fell away, as the process of waiting for God to miraculously fix our trauma caused my hope to grow dim.

But this is where the lyrics and the dance came together to move me to to tears. As I watched Derek move Alexa around the dance floor, I thought of all the times I "closed my eyes" - either in despair, or exhaustion, or prayer - and it was another step in my complex dance with Jesus. As I'm watching Alexa hanging on, Derek calling out where to go, guiding her as she's thrown down, lifted back up,  I'm thinking, through all of this pain, God has never changed. He's the same gracious, merciful God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And although I have not yet received that "miracle moment" I hoped for, we have moved far beyond the "baby-faith" I had when this began. He moves; I hang on. He moves; we separate and return. We move together.

As the dance ends and a few other dancers embrace and circle around them, it mirrored the very thing that had happened to me. A handful of understanding and compassionate people came around to walk with me as I stepped forward.

So I smiled through the tears of knowing an aching joy, that Jesus has been leading me through a broken city that I loved, great clouds rolling over, and me thinking, "how am I going to be an optimist about this?" in so many terrible circumstances. And I realized how far I have come to be married, to be healing, to be coming out of a long, dark, and lonely place with my love for Christ having been battered and thrown and tested at every stage.

Just like Alexa heard the message that she might be eliminated, I too battle the fear that I don't measure up, that I should freeze and not try to move forward because I might fail or it might hurt too much. But when I recently read in the Bible about Nehemiah's struggle to rebuild (coincidentally) the "walls of the city that he loved," I recognized how intricately the work of evil is tied up in fear. Fear is the tool of evil, like a hot poker, trying to imobilize me, trying to make me back down from what I'm building for God.

But fear has no ultimate power over someone who loves Jesus. Can things we fear happen? Yes. The walls can come down. People can block our progress. We can get sick and even die. But with Jesus leading us through, we will finish well. Don't give up whatever justice you are fighting for. Don't give in and sit down and give up because of fear.

As Vaneetha Rendall says in The Loneliness of Suffering:
Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall.

Continue to dance with Jesus, even if you need to just collapse into his strong grip and let him carry you forward.

"Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world."
1 John 4:4

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