A TIME TO DANCE: by lauren ruef
Today we have a guest post from a young woman whose transparent search for meaning and value led her to discover her own unique beauty. And since in just a few days the women of Solid Rock will be gathering together to study what the Scriptures have to say about beauty, I thought her story might just resonate with you as it has with me.
At the end of her story, Lauren throws out a few questions that beg answers. Will you take a moment to talk to us, to tell us where you are on your own search for beauty? And then will you come along with us this Saturday morning on the Westside and Saturday evening Downtown to talk some more? I can hardly wait to share with you what I've been learning and how God has surprised me with His wisdom and His reasons for creating His beauty in each of us.
From my heart,
I couldn’t have been more than six. I stood in the bathroom mirror, close enough for my nose to fog up the glass, questioning God. I stared so deep into my own eyes it almost made me dizzy. I searched my hair, my eyebrows and lips for signs that would tell me the future. What would I look like in a few years and who would I be?
I saw the girlish face staring back at me, the downy hair and soft skin, unblemished by time. What I really wanted to know is what I would be admired for, good at or even proud of? What would define me at 16? I couldn’t wrap my mind around the immensity of that age. Though I knew the numbers carried significance, they seemed light years away.
After realizing that I could not will myself an answer from staring intently into the mirror, I walked away. But I did not abandon the questions that lingered there.….
As I arrived at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood sometime around early middle school, I looked to my peers to define my self-worth. But as it turns out, middle school kids have ruthless whims of both acceptance and rejection.
And if you were anything like me during this life stage, being “thin” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Having a slight figure for most of my life, I’ve still often accused my body for being “wrong.” Somehow in this culture, it is acceptable to be ridiculed and picked apart for being too skinny, and I weathered enough off-colored comments in my middle school years to know it! Chicken legs; bobble head; money arms.
Turns out my gangly limbs weren’t near enough coordinated to cut a good softball swing or to make a basket, which only resulted in further embarrassment in front of my peers. I just couldn’t do it right. I was an artistic kid, writing journals and illustrated books since kindergarten.
As my peers steadily excelled in athleticism, I felt goofy and left behind. My 7th grade year is about the time I wanted to hide under the bleachers in avoidance of gym class, consumed with nervous energy even at the thought of others noticing how awkward I was in my mesh gym shorts and oversized tee shirt.
Not to mention that middle school is the place where once nice girls suddenly turn mean. It was a well established understanding in my heart by then that I didn’t have “it” whatever “it” was and one girl in particular let me know it. I recall being in art class, my favorite hour of the day, only to hear her persistent mocking over my shoulder at every detail I added to the page. She hated me, and I wasn’t even sure why.
The other girls chimed in on their way back to class, giggling and glancing back at me as I walked alone. Nothing can diffuse the budding self-confidence of a girl more than this kind of treatment. I wanted to win their approval so desperately, but at the same time protect myself from being utterly demolished by their expectations. Nothing I did was right. Why couldn’t I do it right?
That question plagued me, and I’m sure countless other girls, even the ones that made fun of me. Maybe for someone else it wasn’t sports, it was not having a date to the dance, or being responsible for the odd, dysfunctional family that embarrassed them at parent teacher conferences. Either way, it’s unfortunate that sometimes these kinds of bad experiences can shape our hearts to long for the affection of others before seeking our Heavenly Father, who loves us unconditionally.
High school years were looking up for me as I transferred schools to the neighboring town to gain more from their larger academic offerings and best of all, to enter their competitive dance program. Jazz, Ballet and Hip Hop classes was the air I breathed five days a week, and I found a self-confidence bursting forth on stage that never materialized with a ball and mitt.
I was so relieved to finally be good at something, to escape the tyrannical scrutiny of that girl clique that had poked lies into my heart for so long. I was rid of their voices, and danced my skinny body to its delight! It turns out my long limbs were shaped for the graceful turns and pliés of a dancer, not the rough upending of dirt and grit of sliding into home base.
Sometimes, we are critical of the bodies God has given us before we understand how he wants us to use them. I always think of that time in my life when I truly believed that God made me more insufficient than my peers simply because I couldn’t catch a softball. And all of these thoughts were sadly contingent on what other’s thought of me, or what the bible terms: “the fear of man.”
It has taken me forever to get over these doubts that began in middle school. It would be a lie to say that I have hit rock bottom on my list of insecurities. They keep coming out in ways I don’t expect them to! But you know, one thing is for certain. That when Jesus saw me in that secret, wonderful, mysterious hiding place before the day of my birth, he smiled and knew exactly what he was doing! As the Psalmist proclaims:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
He is one that guards our hearts, jealously desiring that we seek his approval before anyone else has the chance to get in and make a mess of our hearts. Sufficient to say, it has taken a long time to grasp my beauty and individuality as something God designed and adored since the day of my birth.
I only wish I could’ve seen into the future that day in the mirror, to assure myself that despite a few disgruntled peers and my failure in athletics, that someday God would have me return to a middle school building, but this time as a teacher for an after school dance program where I would boost kids confidence with a little music and let them shake out their silly side. I wish I could’ve seen me grinning from ear-to-ear, leaving the stage after my first choreographed solo performance as a senior in high school.
I believe He wants all of us to ask Him this simple question: what would you make of this life Lord? What do you long to purpose with these limbs, however unfit, or these teeth however crooked? What message of hope would you like to come out of my mouth? What God –honoring work do you have for my hands to find? I would love to hear your own stories of coming to find your passion, wherever your awkward stage might have fallen in the timeline of your life. As for me, I praise the Lord that middle school is over, and I have a feeling that I’m not alone!