I remember the night Will and Cat and Brady and I went to Deep Ellum to go dancing.
The old building with the well-worn hard floors was filled with people, and the open windows let in the night air, which was whisked about by the industrial fans placed here and there. We had come there to swing, and swing we did. Cat and Will are naturals, and Brady and I muddled through.
The people kept coming and the time came when our little siblings-and-cousin posse split up. The guys were brave and asked strangers to dance, and other young men were brave and asked us to dance.
I danced with a few sweet men- the thirty-something who must have been a competitive dancer (I couldn’t keep up with him), the tall, young engineering student who was probably wife hunting (thank God I didn’t pass that test), and the sweet older gentleman who was patient through my bumbling.
But then this one man came and asked me to dance. I don’t remember him saying above three words during the whole encounter- dance and all. I remember he was bald, and wore a hat, and his attire featured a ton of denim.
Oh, and his shoes. I remember his shoes. Gray converse. I remember them because I spent most of the dance staring at them, trying to follow his lead.
And without a word, he led. We danced around the room, and when he wanted to do a different step, he’d simply start doing it. I’d stare at the gray converse until I figured out what was going on, while trying to keep the basic rhythm of the beat with my feet.
As previously mentioned, I am not a good dancer. My brother and sister entered the world with an inherent sense of rhythm, thanks to our dear mother. My father and I share the tragically white phenomenon of not-being-able-to-find-the-beat. At all.
So there I was, staring at feet, trying to make sense of it all, and every time I looked up to give him a sheepish I’m-so-sorry-you-chose-to-dance-with-a-truly-white-girl look, he looked back at me—and smiled. Not that “oh poor dear, I know you’re trying” smile, but a real, cheerful grin. Just for the joy of it all. And he’d keep dancing until I caught on, and we’d fly furiously until he changed the steps again.
And the song ended, and he grinned at me again, and I thanked him profusely- and he was gone.
And I just haven’t forgotten it—I’d be there, moving my feet, butchering the dance, and I’d look up and he’d be smiling at me? I haven’t forgotten.
And yes, because I think and because the Holy Spirit a teacher in all of life, I think of the Gospel. Not the saving Gospel, but the sanctifying Gospel. The Gospel that speaks to us in our work-in-progress state. The Gospel that says, “because of the cross, you get to work out your salvation with fear and trembling and the Holy Spirit- and come running to Dad when you screw it up”.
I have trouble with this. Like big trouble. Straight-A student, relentless Good Christian Girl…I wasn’t used to messing up, or at least knowing that I was messing up. I’m still not.
But life happened—the difficulty of nursing school, mainly—and I made a few Bs. And a C. And I cried. And it’s not just grades (literally, who cares. Okay, I do. Just a little). But worse, far worse than that, I’m realizing that I am capable of more selfishness, apathy, and impatience than I ever thought possible. It’s disgusting. I’m realizing: I’m not perfect. Never was. Good gravy, my sister could have told me that years ago. But the glass cracked and I finally saw it for myself. And there is redemption, even here.
So I screw up the dance, take my eyes off the shoes of the Master and try to wing it myself. “I’m fine; I’m fine.”
And I stumble over the rhythm that’s kept me going for so long, and I falter to the floor.
And I look- the master’s shoes are yet there, though still. And I look up to his face, and he looks at me—intently, with compassion.
I’ve been reading through Matthew, and that’s what’s been surprising me. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were…like sheep without a shepherd.” (9:36)
And the man helps me back to my feet. I cast my eyes away from his, for the shame of it. He takes my face and directs it back at him, where he meets me with loving eyes.
And we dance again. And the rhythm picks up, gently, sweetly, until it becomes a happy whirling dervish. And lo, he changes the steps- and I look at his feet and try to follow, but in between he gives me discipline enough to catch his eyes.
And though I miss steps and am slow to learn, he grins—
–and we dance, for the joy of it all.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” -2 Corinthians 12:9