Dancing in church

I have shared a couple of wonderful memories of the summer of Steve, 2001, the summer we began the relationship which continues in a marriage now in its fourteenth year. We spent a lot of time together, and we also spent a lot of time writing to each other. Those notes and cards and emails and letters tell a great love story, and they are all sitting in a basked upstairs that I have found some time to go through.

But our relationship really began with a dance in church. It wasn’t a prom. It wasn’t at a wedding. It wasn’t some gathering for singles, especially older ones. It wasn’t a two-step or a quick step or even a polka. It was a long, slow dance in circles around each other.

It started in Sunday school.

My entry point back into church was because Jana kept bugging me to come with her. So one January, I think it was 1997, I made a New Year’s resolution to go back to church, the one resolution I have ever kept. I went for 9:30 worship and then stayed with Jana for the 11:00 Sunday school class, which I really enjoyed. It was about the scripture texts that were given to Handel to write his great oratorio, Messiah. I loved it!

So I kept going back and by 1999, Jana and I were on the Adult Education Committee, planning Sunday school classes for adults. I went on my first mission trip (to southwest Germany) in 2000, and then finally joined West Hills that fall, when I had come to the conclusion that being a part of the body of Christ WITHIN the body of Christ was better than standing alone, outside.

The dance with Steve started in one of those classes that we put on, a year-long study of the Old Testament. Steve sat in the back. Jana and I sat in the front. He would tease me about always knowing the answers and being the teacher’s pet. I called it flinging arrows at my back from the rear. There we were, learning about God’s word together while circling around one another.

That fall, after I came back from Germany and took our new members class, Steve was the enabler, or facilitator, of my small group. Part of the process was to learn each other’s story and so our dance continued, bit by bit, no one leading, but the circle spiraling in.

That OT class led to another on the parables of Jesus and Steve and I found ourselves in the same small discussion group. And for some reason one week the discussion led to me asking this question: “If I asked you to jump off a cliff, would you?” It was a snarky, silly comment, and yet somehow the answer came back. Yes. He said, yes. And all of a sudden the dancers were face to face.

Never having been in this position before, I was overwhelmed. One hot night, I wrote a letter and sealed it in five envelopes. And somehow, the next day I found the courage to put a stamp on it and mail it. And that letter and its response are the first two things in that basket of memories I have thought about while walking these last weeks.

IMG_2047Dear Steve,

Would you please STOP! It’s 4:30 in the morning and I have a busy day ahead and I need to sleep! Just stop. It’s hard enough that it’s hot and I refuse to break my June 1 rule about the a/c, but you won’t leave me alone. Steve, Steve, Steve… You’re like the wind blowing right now — it’s noisy but welcome because it’s cool. The worst part is you’re probably totally unaware that you’re making so much noise! When you said you’d jump off a cliff if I asked you to, the reality is, you pushed me over. I’m falling and I can’t get up, but there’s that wonderful feeling like the down cycle of a ferris wheel. Over and over and over… Steve, Steve, Steve. Cut it out! I’m sealing this in all these envelopes to muffle the noise. Sorry if this rambles, but it’s 4:30. A.M.! So, I will now make one more attempt to sleep. Good morning to you.

Sincerely, but sleepily, Julie

P.S. See you Sunday at 8!

It was a small, brave step forward in our dance…and it scared me. Two days later, this arrived:

IMG_2048Dear Julie,

You’ve been making a lot of noise in my head also. I don’t know what to say! I’ve been trying to get to know you better as carefully and secretly as possible. But now you’ve flushed me out into the open. Your first card [an Easter card sent earlier in the spring – JPB] was the first clue I had of your possible interest, but I didn’t want to misread anything, nor was I ready to say anything. For that matter I’m still not sure I’m ready. But here I am! Talk about falling off a cliff, your second card was wonderful! Whatever comes next, I will treasure it always.

So what does come next? I’ve been thinking about asking you out for some time now, but the very word “dating” makes me cringe. Maybe we can start figuring this out this weekend. Call me when you get this card.

Truly yours, Steve

P.S. Your handwriting is atrocious! You didn’t really expect this correspondence to go by without at least one gibe did you?

I called. We went to dinner. We started, not dating, but keeping coming. I went to Cameroon five days later, came back, and the dance continued. It continues still, now in the wonderful and miraculous state of wedded bliss.

I never went to the prom or the homecoming dance. But it’s okay. I danced in church,  and my card was – and is – filled.


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