I stood on the stage, a slip of a thing in those days, all 50-something pounds of me spotlighted. I’d finished my audition song and waited for the voices to break through the pitch-black theater.
“So, can ya’ dance?” bellowed one, the show’s director.
Up from within my bony frame came one confident reply: “YEP!”
I can’t remember my emotions in that moment and I’m not even sure I can remember that moment. Like the stories that mothers tell their babies to shape their understanding of childhood when they are no longer babies, this memory was hers. Her little sprite who’d never known dance lessons stood boldly under those big white lights.
My daddy had told me that I could do anything.
My daddy, who hiked the Grand Canyon on a whim (with nothing but a Diet Coke in his hand), and who created my very first memory as he flew me over it, filled my childhood with strong words.
He cracked open the sky for me.
I didn’t know fear or limits. Then.
But one simple day poked a hole in that bucket which my daddy had filled to overflowing.
I pedaled home from my best friend Laura’s house where we were still clinging to the last remnants of summer before high school would wash us of our youth. I found him on the couch, slumped in pain. Man down; my invincible daddy was wounded.
One doctor’s appointment gone awry, one false move, altered the course of his life. Forever.
He spent a fall that was normally jam-packed with tennis tournaments and back-to-school activities on a bed we moved into our family room. He couldn’t walk the stairs. Coach Welter was out for what we’d hoped was just a season … but it turned into years.
When his body broke and his back gave way, my heart went with it. The man who had told me I could do anything couldn’t get out of bed for months and walked the rest of his life with this shadow over his once-vigorous existence. His words lost their weight up against his broken story.
So I did, then, what human nature tells us to do and I filled in the gap between what I once knew — how I knew things should be –and this new reality. When our story is inflicted with pain, we compensate.
I moved from pig-tails in the wind that whipped against my carefree spirit to coloring carefully within the lines. I grew cautious, but called it “measured.” I made plans, patterned my life around schedules, and craved an order that verged on rigid. I ate small meals and purged myself at the sign of stepping outside those calculated boundary lines. I called this “discipline.”
My younger years were full of zest and zeal and fearlessness — and what I later labeled to be “maturity” in my adolescence was, in truth, much more like self-protection.
She leaned her chair back on its hind legs and he screeched in fear, high-pitched. This was his pattern. He biked ahead but with frequent looks back to check on her, his big sister. She ran, all wild, along the water’s edge and he watched her nervously. My little boy carried a safety net as if it was an extension of his arm. He’d made it his job to anticipate even the slightest one of her falls, all so that he might secure this sister of his.
All so that he might secure himself.
Boys and girls were made to find safety in their mommies and daddies. When you’re young, life-confidence takes root in the safety of another’s watchful eye.
My little guy’s world was turned upside down at an age before he could hold memories, but his un-remembered moments still left a mark. He learned, while little, how to bridge that gap between what his heart needed and what his current reality showed. He came to us with this pre-formed habit and even years of nose-to-nose cuddles and verbal assurances and kissing all those ouchies hasn’t quite yet broken it. (Though we sure are getting closer!)
Old habits die hard.
My son and I, we know.
And now I’m standing on this kind of stage, near thirty years later, and the director says can ya’ dance? and that little girl, with her daddy’s voice in her ear telling her that she can do anything, feels so far from who I am today. The inertia still lingered, of years of building that bridge over that gap between what my still-young heart needed, then, and the reality which my father’s broken body broke.
How did I get all the way from there to here?
And how do I keep him and his sisters from spending a lifetime forming their person around what they, once, lacked?
The wildly beautiful thing about all of this — their compensating for the loss in their little-years and my heart still simmering with a dull ache at 35 for something that happened half a lifetime ago — is that it is right here in this moment (not when all the scars are gone) that my seemingly-stifled story breathes.
The first time I remember embracing, not just noticing, the Father-side of God was months after I stood over my daddy’s grave. How can this be? How can such great loss give birth to a new understanding of God that is shaping my every day?
Because this is how He works.
Our weak lives and our faltering stories create gaps that only God was meant to fill.
“Can ya’ dance?” was answered, then, by my daddy’s steady stream of strong-words over the little version of me. And when his voice fell silent under the weight of his life — this man, this father the Lord used to prepare me for Himself — I had Another’s, waiting, to fill the void. At 35, He is producing a new “YEP!” over my life. A vibrant yes, stronger because of His infilling.
Because, yes, in Him I can do anything He calls me to.
He sets up camp in our dark places. And they change.
He doesn’t see my son like the world is tempted to: forever stained with a story of abandonment, or not a child “of my own.”
He sees that safety net Caleb has created for himself and says oh, son, my son. One day, soon, you’ll know a fearlessness that no circumstance can ever shake.
He reaches His hand into our wounds and by His so doing they, then, become the place of His planting.
My life’s garden starts here.
Lord, this week of giving thanks (amid a year of giving thanks), I thank you for the gaps in my story. Because it’s here that I now see the greatest display of Your glory in my life.
Making it Practical: Allowing Him to bridge those gaps doesn’t come naturally, though it’s what we crave. Come back next week for a printable prayer page to use as a tool towards praying His Words over the gaps in your lives and theirs. Gratitude over these life-aches can only come from looking up. (I’ll have a Stella update then, too, for those of you midwifing this story alongside of us.)
For Your Continued Pursuit: Isaiah 45:2-3 | Philippians 4:13 | Psalm 49:15 | Isaiah 58:12 | Psalm 68:5 | Isaiah 51:3 | Isaiah 61:1-3
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy. This girl has also set us up on instagram. Friends, it took several sittings for me to know exactly what that means and I still don’t quite get it … except, that you can now find updates and useful graphics on Instagram @everybitterthingissweet. We have just started rolling out S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H-E-N images — letter by letter, how cool! Mandie keeps me in the 21st century.