Saturday, January 30, 2016
A few days ago I received an unexpected and sobering email. Hedy, my best friend throughout our teenage years, had cried out in the night from what turned out to be a burst cerebellar aneurysm deep in the brain. Within minutes, she had passed into eternity.
We had studied at the same ballet school, worked hard and sweated together, rehearsed and performed in the same troupe, shared our dreams, disappointments, and triumphs, We helped each other through the heartbreak of first crushes, family problems, school struggles, conflicts in our dance world. We confided in one another about sorrows we could not bear to discuss with anyone else.
Best of all, we laughed, long and hard, about so many things. How much better and healthier than to cry over problems we could not control (Proverbs 17:22). Together we agonized through stretching exercises, bandaged our blistered feet, and stuffed cardboard and lambs’ wool in our pointe shoes to ease the pain.But we always found ways to make it fun!
We enjoyed studying pictures and reading biographies of great ballerinas, learning about stage makeup, and rehearsing in my family’s living room. We improvised to classical music recorded on LPs, and choreographed ballets we dreamed we would produce one day.
When we were juniors in high school, Hedy helped me get my first semi-professional gig as a ballet dancer. She had heard of auditions at a local ballet company, and was supportive and encouraging (Ephesians 4:2) rather than resentful when I was cast as a soloist.
But shortly thereafter, time, space and plans separated us. I went off to college as a premed student and she continued to pursue her ballet studies, supporting herself through odd jobs at dance studios and working long hours, yet never too tired to polish and her perfect her own craft.
In the years to come we seldom saw one another, yet the bond between us could never be broken. Hedy was not only like a sister to me, but also like a daughter to my mother when I moved out of state, accompanying her on long trips to our family burial plot and responding quickly to emergencies. We kept in touch through phone calls and mostly through long but sporadic letters. Pouring out our hearts to one another on the written page was almost like confiding in one another face to face.
As the years went on, our life paths continued to diverge, even though we both continued to explore our love of dance. Hedy opened her own dance studio and offered scholarships to underprivileged children, teaching them by example her joy in dance, and the devotion, dedication and discipline needed to advance in this unique art form that uses the human body as the instrument of expression.
I became a neurologist, got married, had a son, and had a successful career, first in academics and then in private practice. But I never lost my joy in dancing, and began performing, competing and choreographing with my husband and dance partner.
In 2000, my life took a dramatic turn. I was born again (John 3:1-8) by realizing that I was a sinner in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23), and that Jesus Christ, Son of God and God Himself, came to earth in human form (John 1:1-14).
He died on the cross as the perfect, sinless Sacrifice to pay for all our sins, to reconcile sinful man to Holy God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Hebrews 2:17). He was buried and rose again on the third day, so that all who trust Him as Lord and Savior would have abundant, eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16; 10:10).
Naturally, I wanted to share this life-changing experience with Hedy, so I put it into words with pen on stationery, and prayed it would touch her heart. Several months went by, and I wondered if I had offended her or if she thought the pressures of my career had driven me off the deep end.
But then I received her letter and tore open the envelope with trembling hands. She explained that she was shocked at first, but that she valued my opinion enough to reflect carefully on what I had written. Praise God, she too had trusted Christ as her Lord and Savior!
Hedy began seeking out Christian friends and listening to Christian radio, and I prayed that she would find a Bible-preaching, loving church home, to encourage others and be encouraged, and to worship God and study His Word together (Hebrews 10:25).
What a blessing to learn, in that otherwise dismal email I just received, that the grandmother of one of her students had invited Hedy to go to church with her, and that Hedy had enjoyed attending services there!
Her memorial service was held at that church with more than a hundred of her students and their families coming to pay their respects and to honor the love she had shown them during her all-too-brief time with them. We don’t understand why Hedy’s life was cut off so abruptly (James 4:14), but we can trust that God has His reasons for bringing her home (Romans 8:28).
With God there are no coincidences, and it made me smile as I thought of the church to which He had guided her. The church is about a 15 mile drive from where Hedy grew up, lived, and had her school. And yet, it is within walking distance of the home where I grew up and where Hedy visited me often for teenage sleepovers.
When I was a young girl, long before I knew Christ, I used to walk or bike around our neighborhood (in the days and in a town when and where it was safe for children to explore their community without close adult supervision). I always felt drawn to the church that Hedy would end up joining decades later. Sometimes when I felt troubled or just needed to think things over, I would park my bike outside and go in, for it was always left unlocked even though no one was there.
Once inside I was always struck by the quiet, so profound that I could hear the rustling of air molecules in my ears. Often I would pray silently to God, although I didn’t yet know Him. Thank God that He knew me and a plan for me since before the beginning of time, drawing me to Himself (Jeremiah 29:11; Acts 17:27). Thank God that He had a plan for Hedy too, and that He allowed me the awesome privilege of being the one to tell her about Him! (1 Thessalonians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 5:20)
Praise God for friends who encourage and support us, sharing our burdens as well as our joy (Ecclesiastes 4:12; Galatians 6:2). For the Christian, death of a loved one in Christ brings sorrow as we miss them on earth, for they cannot return to us, yet we know that we will one day go to them, praise God! (2 Samuel 12:23).
This gives us the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the joy of anticipating that blessed and lively hope (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3) of living with Him and with one another throughout eternity (1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
One day Hedy and I will meet again, praising Him with dance! (Psalm 149:3; 150:4) Perhaps we will dance before His throne the dances we choreographed as teenagers but never had a chance to perform!
© 2016 Laurie Collett
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Even before Jesus is born, Scripture illuminates the character of His mother Mary by showing her response to three challenges: would she accept God’s mission to carry His Son; would she praise God even in times of uncertainty, and how would she react to frightening circumstances?
As we have seen previously, Mary, handmaiden of the Lord, willingly submitted to God’s plan for her to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bear God’s Son, and to call Him Jesus, acknowledging that He was the promised Messiah Who would save His people from their sins (Luke 1:31,35,38).
In retrospect, we can appreciate this as a spectacular, unique, and unprecedented blessing, because she would be the mother of the One Who would be great, the Son of the Highest, and the eternal Ruler on the throne of David, reigning over the house of Jacob and His everlasting Kingdom (Luke 1:32-33).
Yet often we understand God’s purpose behind our greatest trials (Romans 8:28) only in retrospect, if at all (Job 2:3.6). Most young girls in that setting, if presented with such an amazing opportunity, would decline the offer, fail to believe its meaning, and run away in fear, and with good reason. Unwed pregnancy would likely result in rejection by the betrothed (Matthew 1:18-19), ostracism by the community, and even death by stoning (John 8:4-5).
In contrast, Mary committed to God’s intentions, believed His revelations, and followed His instructions. As soon as the angel Gabriel left her with God’s astounding news, Mary traveled to visit her cousin Elisabeth, whom Gabriel had told her was miraculously pregnant in her old age with John the Baptist (Luke 1:36-40).
Mary’s journey to Juda, where Elisabeth lived (Luke 1:39-40), must have been difficult, dangerous and frightening for a young woman who was pregnant, unwed, and alone. The distance of approximately 80 miles through the hill country (Luke 1:39) would have taken about a week, even on a donkey or camel, and every bump on the rocky road would have aggravated morning sickness.
But when Mary arrived at her cousin’s, did she complain about her uncomfortable trip, her compromising situation, or her lingering doubts, as many of us do with far less provocation? Did she demand rest, refreshment, or food after her long journey? Did she respond pridefully when Elizabeth called her blessed among women, the mother of her Lord, and the faith-filled recipient of God’s promises? (Luke 1:42-45)
No, Mary’s first words spoken to her cousin were a song of faith, praise, and worship to God (Luke 1:46-55). For three months, Mary stayed with Elizabeth, most likely serving her older relative who was already six months pregnant when Mary arrived, and rejoicing with her when John was born (Luke 1:36,-56-58).
Then came the second of three arduous journeys between the time Gabriel appeared to Mary and the time Jesus was born. Mary had to return to her house in Nazareth (Luke 1:56), still alone, but now three months pregnant and possibly starting to show that she was an unwed mother.
The third of these journeys was when Joseph traveled with her to the city of Bethlehem, as mandated by Caesar Augustus to tax everyone in his city of origin, thus fulfilling the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-6).
Now Mary was near term, her pregnancy obvious to everyone, her belly painfully enduring every step of jostling from the donkey, and the uncertainties of travel fueling her fears that she would deliver in the middle of nowhere, with no midwife to help her.
At last, they arrived in Bethlehem, and not a moment too soon, for Mary’s early contractions were most likely beginning. But there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7). Did Mary wonder why God would allow His Son, the promised Messiah and King, to enter the world in such poor conditions? Why would Jesus be born in a stable crowded with animals instead of a warm room, laid in a manger filled with scratchy hay instead of a comfy crib, and wrapped in grave clothes?
But Mary’s humility, faith in God, and willingness to follow His perfect plan (Jeremiah 29:11; Proverbs 3:5-6) must have helped her to undergo this time of testing, challenges and tribulation with acceptance, grace, and peace (Philippians 4:7,13; James 4:6; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:5).
May all of us who have trusted God by believing in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) do the same, no matter what trials God allows to cross our path!
© 2016 Laurie Collett