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Suffering and Joy: The Whirling Dance

Suffering and Joy: The Whirling Dance

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it… Be good friends who love deeply. — Romans 12:9-10

Clare was the first new friend I made when I joined our church. She’s a love-from-the-center kind of friend. Bright, beautiful, and open, Clare is easy to connect with. When I discovered we had a mutual friend in a woman named Sandy, Clare was instantly vetted for me.

Clare and Dave, her husband, have a son, Josh, age fourteen, and a daughter, Sara Grace. Cerebral palsy stole Sara’s language skills and confines her to a wheelchair. She’s eleven now, but her developmental age is closer to three. With no mobility, she requires round-the-clock care that demands continual attention and patience. The things most of us take for granted — sharing a meal, brushing our teeth, taking a bath — are incredibly taxing. A common cold for Sara can’t be taken lightly and always requires a trip to the doctor. Even getting Sara into her special van, with all of its lifts and gadgets, is exhausting.

One Sunday at church, during communion, I noticed Clare slipped out early. Later, when I found her in the church foyer, she told me: “I couldn’t do it today. I’m mad at God and I don’t want to share a meal with Him.” Clare’s confession followed a dedication ceremony for a new baby. The bright-and-shiny family on the platform included a new son and a beautiful older sister who twirled around the stage in her fancy church dress.

Clare, of course, was happy for that sweet family. But as she watched the beautiful little girl twirl, the joyful movement triggered a creeping sadness within her. She ached for Sara. The string of traumatizing surgeries and the failed brain shunts are only the beginning. Clare wonders most about the thoughts and feelings trapped inside of Sara that can’t find their way past her damaged brain to be expressed. She can’t keep from thinking how her child’s world is so unknown to her and all the people who love her. She can’t keep from thinking how sad even celebrating Sara’s birthday can be, because Sara can’t have little girls over to giggle and play a party game together.

She can’t help but think how life would be if Sara could twirl and dance.

Let me be clear: Clare’s faith is personal, alive, and deeply rooted. But she’s no poser. She’s not about to fake it. That’s why her surprising decision not to partake in communion was a witness to me. Her faith-life is current, in the moment, honest. She’s not one to simply go through the motions. That Sunday, she and God had to come to terms. Clare wasn’t just content to pray about her sadness; she needed to pray through her grief until she had a new sense of God’s involvement in her daughter’s life.

But the breakthrough didn’t come. At least not quickly.

Over the next few months Clare continued to pray. She poured her aching heart out to God, sometimes only with questions and tears.

One day Clare called. “Leslie, today I don’t want to walk Green Lake, or have coffee at Pete’s. Today I want to go to Discovery Beach together. I’ve got something to tell you.” Clare knows this beach is one of my favorite places in the world, a place so reverent it serves as a shortcut to worship, surrounded as it is with the stunning beauty of the Pacific Ocean, Mount Rainier standing guard on the horizon, and the forest meeting up with the sand. As we sat in the winter sunshine, feeling the crisp breeze swirl around us, Clare said her grief was dissipating. God was transforming her heart. In fact, Clare confessed, “Life is still heavy and hard, but I’m finding joy again — for the first time in a long time.” She told me that she was finding surprising meaning in even the toughest times with Sara.

Clare also told me that God had given her a verse:

You did it, [God]: You changed wild lament into whirling dance. — Psalm 30:11

She told me she was ready to come back to the table with God and share a meal. They’d come to terms. She might not see Sara dance or twirl, but God would change her grief into joy anyway.

Then Clare shared about a rare and deep conversation she had just had with our mutual friend, Sandy. Sandy, a nurse, had been by Clare’s side during that first dark year of hospitalization and crisis for Sara. As they talked, Sandy remembered something from those early bleak days in the hospital. God had given Clare a startling vision: a vivid picture of a little girl twirling in a pretty dress. Clare had forgotten it, along with the concrete details of where they were when it happened ten years earlier. They had thought it was a promise for Sara, that God was saying someday, maybe in heaven, Sara would dance.

Sandy said to Clare, “I think God just spoke to me. He told me that little girl twirling in the pretty dress in that vision was you. You are the whirling dancer filled with God’s joy.”

As Clare shared this astounding story with me, I reminded her of the Sunday when she couldn’t take communion because she was so filled with grief. “Remember what triggered it all for you that day?” I asked. “It was the little twirling girl beside her family on the platform.”

In that moment, sitting on a piece of driftwood at Discovery Beach, both of us marveled at our own discovery. God had actually been sending Clare an invitation. He was inviting her to let go of her heartache, to release the deep grief, the wild lament she had borne bravely for a decade. It was time to receive the gift of God’s joy in whirling dance.

Your Turn

1. How has a time of suffering led you into a deeper communion with God? Are you experiencing a similar communion currently with God? Why or why not?

2. How are your honest doubts and disappointments leading you to a new place of trust and joy?

Excerpted with permission from Soul Friends: What Every Woman Needs To Grow In Her Faith by Dr. Leslie Parrott, copyright Zondervan, 2015.

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Come join the conversation about suffering and joy on our blog! We would love to hear from you about suffering being transformed into joy and a deeper faith in Jesus! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full