On one of our many journeys back and forth to hospital I found myself discussing with Sam how she first learned to ‘spot’ in ballet.
We laughed together as she expressed her recall of going to school in a loose hair elastic and realising by recess that it wouldn’t be a good afternoon at dance class. A loose elastic meant she would be distracted through all her turns that afternoon because if her elastic wasn’t tight, no matter how many pins she fixed around her bun, it would still feel wobbly at the part of her scalp where all her hair was scooped together in one loose elastic.
We laughed that a loose hair elastic would probably be a good problem to have right now. Instead of hair elastics she tightens the clips inside her wig to make sure her hair stays in place on her bald head which is beginning to grow a soft, downy fur of new growth.
Regardless of the loose hair elastic, pose turns and pirouettes had to be practiced religiously. Sam had the ‘old school’ style ballet teacher who insisted on perfection without excuses and drilled her students until this standard was reached. Fortunately for Sam her demi- plie was regarded as one of the most beautiful in the dance school and her teacher thought both she and Emma had beautiful feet.
To pirouette, they were taught to stand at the rear corner of the room in fourth position, left foot in front of the right, hips and feet turned out; arms loose in front. After a releve, they were told to concentrate on one spot in front of them and commence the turn. They focussed on that spot until they could no longer keep their head forward, then they would turn their head around to focus on the spot again as they finished their revolution. It seems, this art of spotting, after much practise prepared them for multiple spins and turns without ever getting dizzy or loosing grace or stance.
This conversation with Sam has been stuck in my heads for weeks as I consider the dizzy journey I feel I am on this year. Ever since her diagnosis I have had to remind myself daily to ‘fix my eyes on Jesus.’
Philippians 4:6-8 Do not fret or have anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your requests known to God. And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of it’s salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God…the sort of peace that shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.
If I lose my focus for a moment I find myself unable to keep going. Instead I hear the complaints loud in my head about how unfair this journey is, how tedious, how tiresome. I don’t want to go back into that corner, choose me focal point, prepare my feet, position my hands and start the turn. I want to sit for a while, I want to enjoy someone else performing the dance.
Still God reminds me of my passion to know Him, the prayers I have prayed. I didn’t think obedience would require this. Would I have said “Here I am, send me” if I’d known it would require this path? When we lost money on the house and in business; when I broke my leg in the car accident, when God challenged us to walk away from ministry and trust Him to give it back in His timing somehow it was so much easier to agree with Paul, “I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege of knowing Jesus Christ, my Lord.” This year however as I’ve spent days by Sam’s bed, waiting for her to wake from a bone marrow biopsy, a lumbar puncture, or to shake off a fever I have had much opportunity to ‘know God.’ In the stillness, in the uncertainty of it all He has truly become all that I have.
There have been many opportunities to fear for Sam’s life but as Paul writes, “Whatever is worthy of reverence and is honourable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them].
It is only when I have determined to find Jesus and his incredible goodness that I am able to start the dance again. I know that He is training me. I know that He is teaching me to dance. He is showing me not to wait until the storm is over but rather how to dance in the rain.
I have watched my daughters progress from the adorable routine of primary ballet where the exercises focussed on the hands, and the feet in isolation before the moves ever became a dance.
I watched them grow and discover how to find synergy with the music. I saw them become light and graceful on their feet as if they were one with the music. Completely entangled, bonded in harmony with it.
Eventually the time came for the stage, the costumes and the lights but such was their love of dance that they would dance wherever they were. They would pose turn down supermarket aisles, they would pirouette in their pyjamas, sometimes they forgot where they were and would only stop because they saw me smiling and realise what they were doing.
How amazing to be so caught up with the music and the passion that to dance could come so naturally. This is what I strive for now in my relationship with God.
For days, Sam has been fibrile neutropenic. This means she has fevers over 38 and no capacity to fight infection. The consistent fever indicates she has an infection somewhere in her body but as yet the blood cultures that were sent to the lab haven’t revealed anything.
As I sponge her head with face cloths soaked in ice I look out the window over the park to the hospice garden. There beyond the chapel is the most magnificent display of wisteria vine I have ever seen. From my vantage point on the 9th floor the trellis it clings to is covered like a purple carpet.
I’m reminded of John 15, where Jesus instructs his disciples to cling to him like branches on a vine. He tells them that the branches that do not bear fruit will be snapped off and burnt in the fire yet those that are bearing will be pruned so they can bear more fruit.
Pruned branches look lifeless and dead but they are simply dormant for a season. My life feels like that this year. I feel like an ugly stick that is waiting to bear. Waiting, I’ve discovered has many meanings in Hebrew. One of which is ‘to bind together by twisting, to be joined.’
Late yesterday Emma came on the bus from Uni to see Sam and I at St Vincents. I met her on the corner of Oxford St and asked her to come with me to look at the wisteria in the hospice garden.
As we walked beyond the brick walls and into the garden the fragrance overwhelmed us. In the centre of the garden a gentle waterfall bubbles. It’s incredible. Then we stood under the wisteria vine and Emma remarked that it was like a tapestry. All messy and tangled yet from above the flowers were so beautiful spreading their sweet aroma heavenward.
‘Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph and through us spreads and makes the fragrance of the knowledge of God everywhere.’ 2 Corinthians 2:14
I’m praying that in this year of waiting; this season of pruning that my life has become entangled to the vine. That every twist and turn of the journey is wrapped around God’s purpose. That, even though my nights are sleepless, my hands, cracked and dry (this week) from hours spent dipping cloths in ice water. Even though this is not a path I would ever have chosen that somehow God would turn it around to bring forth a branch connected to Him and bearing much fruit.
More than that I pray for Sam that the year that seemed to put her whole life on hold would in fact catapult her into a magnificent future. That God ‘will give her back her vineyards and will make the valley of weeping a door of hope. There she will sing.’ Hosea 2:15
On September 3rd, the day of the bone marrow transplant two friends came to St Vincents at 7 am to pray in the chapel for Sam. Afterward they sent a note to our room. It read ‘as we prayed we saw the new stem cells delight in Sam’s body – every nook – everything new and fresh. They love it so much they dance through it.’
T.S. Eliot writes ‘ except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance and there is only the dance.’
May we be so entwined in God’s purpose that every twist and turn from this moment be pleasing to Him.