|He looks like he'd be down on dancing|
Back in the early 90s, Snapple ran an ad campaign whose famous tag line followed the image of some old farmer taking a sip of the stuff and dead-panning, “It could lead to dancing.” It was a funny line and one month in our fellowship's newsletter I used it to promote some youth event I had planned. At that time, our congregation was a strange mixture of young families and, frankly, odd and eccentric elderly individuals. And Lillie certainly fell into that category.
Lillie was an 80-year-old woman of Swedish descent who in her youth, as she had shared with me on occasion, had spurned proposals of marriage from perspective beaus, for the honor of serving Jesus. She had served in Africa among other like-minded women at an orphanage in Liberia for nearly 20 years until sickness required her to leave that beloved place behind for good. Lillie, cut from a very, fierce bolt of Pentecostal fabric, didn't go for all things of modern culture and certainly did not watch TV (unless, say, Billy Graham was on.) So, when she got her copy of the newsletter and read it, as was her wont, from cover to cover, she was aghast to learn that of all things a dance had been planned at the Tabernacle. And she had a mind to say something about it. So she called the church office and finding that I was out, left a very long, rambling message on the answering machine. “To think I should live to see the day that dancing was going on in the church. What would Runar think?” (Runar was her brother-in-law and the founding pastor of our fellowship who died before his time in 1974.) I don't recall the rest of her message but it was clear that her blood was up.
I did contemplate calling her back to carefully explain that I had not, in fact, planned a dance but was using a phrase from popular culture that would resonate with the youth audience it was intended for but thought better of it. Just the thought of the effort it would take to make myself clear with her wore me out before I even started. But I'm sure I reassured her that a dance wasn't exactly what I had in mind.
I wonder what she would think of that assurance today were she still with us? Because on several occasions since we shed ourselves of our pews to make room for the chairs that now fill our sanctuary we have pushed them to the side for a dance. I think the first time we did this was on the occasion of our daughter, Emma's, 16th birthday. We had invited all kinds of folks – the Refuge family, and all the people in our daughter's life who were special to her – and we sat down for a dinner in the lower level at our worship facility. There were, perhaps, 50-60 people on hand to celebrate this momentous night when, following dinner, we made our way upstairs into the sanctuary to publicly affirm her as a woman, inviting all those gathered to join in this act of blessing. It was a very sweet night graced by, among others, her golf coach and several members of her team. After public affirmation and prayer, given the fact that dancing is such a passion in Emma's life, we pushed back the chairs and danced away celebrating her and God's goodness in her life. Joy was in the place.
|She's our dancing queen|
But perhaps the most egregious demonstration that we were no longer in Lillie's “Kansas” occurred a few weeks ago when Troy and Marie renewed their wedding vows. I've written a lot about Troy (a.k.a., “the good Troy”) over the last year or so. About how Jesus found him at the Barron County Justice Center back in March 2011, about his profession of faith later that summer and being sober at Christmas for the first-time ever that Christmas Eve. As I have shared before, Troy has been a gift to me and all of us at Refuge, not only as the brother that he is, but as a reminder that the gospel of Jesus Christ really is the power to transform a life. And here's yet another installment from his life.
|Renee's work of art|
A few months back, he called me one afternoon urgently needing to see me. Assuring me he wasn't in trouble, he hoofed it on over to the office and sat down and shared this with me: “I was drunk when I first proposed to Marie and I did it in a bar. I just want to start fresh. Do you think it would be okay if I asked her to marry me again?” I was touched by his sincerity to want to do right by the woman who had stood by him over all the years he had disappointed her by his drunken and offensive behavior and I simply replied, “I think that's a great idea.” “But I don't even know how to do that,” he said with the twinge of frustration in his voice. To wit, I asked him if he and Marie ever went out for dinner. Shaking his head “no” in response, I suggested that he take her out to a nice restaurant. “You'll think of something,” I assured him.
Troy went all out in this matter. He bought new rings for both of them. He took her out to Applebee's and excusing himself to use the bathroom, he slipped the rings to the waiter and asked him to deliver them to the nice lady in the booth. What happened next is pure Marie: she was both mad at him and elated at the same time. She was mad because she was crying in public now and elated that he was inspired to do such a thing. When they got home from their date he called me up, like a son calling his old man, to tell me how the night had gone. “It was great,” he shared. “But what did she say?” was my question to wit she yelled in the background like a teenage girl, “I said OF COURSE!”
|Renee made about 50 of these|
Plans were set in motion. Some of our wonderful women of our fellowship got on board. They were going to do this up big. Renee decorated the sanctuary and newly remodeled lower level. Melissa cooked up a wonderful meal. Troy, a man of many talents, baked an exquisite cake. But Troy and Marie wanted more: they wanted music. So they turned to the most musical people they know, the young adults of The Focus, the youth fellowship that gathers in our sanctuary every Wednesday night. They asked our daughter, Emma, to handle the music for the ceremony and they asked Kayla (the main worship leader for Focus) if she could organize an hour's worth of music which would follow the meal. Both girls were on it and, as it we would find out, went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure Troy & Marie's day was remarkably special.
A few days before the ceremony, Kayla wanted clarification just what it was that Troy & Marie were expecting. I assured her that I was fairly certain that they would be “background music” while they cut the cake or while people mingled and visited. But when I checked in with Troy to make sure that's what he was thinking he clarified what they were asking the kids to do: he wanted them to be the band for the dance that was to follow dinner. When I gently reminded him that these kids know only worship music and couldn't even play the “Hokey-Pokey” even if they could track down the music, he said, “That's great. That's exactly what we want. Whatever they pick it will be great.” When I shared that with Kayla the next night she seemed to experience a few heart palpitations but after my assurances that it'll be good no matter what they picked, she put together her worship set.
The day of the renewal of their wedding vows went better than planned. The sanctuary and lower level were beautiful with a canopy of young birch trees that had come from Randy & Renee's property gracing the altar and three more stationed in the lower hall. The ceremony was brief but touching. Troy and Marie even made up new vows to share with each other. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter, frustrated in her attempt to find the right song for the unity candle ceremony, decided to write her own, a tribute that was not lost on the couple. The meal was wonderful, made lovingly by Melissa. And then it was time to move upstairs for the dance. Kayla and crew began their worship set. Most of their guests had left already but their immediate family and the elders of our fellowship remained. And somewhere during that set, Marie began to dance with her son, Alex, a freshman in high school. And following that, with her husband. I think that's when it happened. Troy and Marie's loving embrace inspired one of our elders, Troy (a.k.a., the “bad” Troy), to ask his wife, Tina, to dance with him. And then Linda and I took the floor followed by Jon and Melissa. Lillie's prophesy was coming true – It had led to dancing after all.
|Their first dance happened in church|
|Their first dance happened in church as well|
The presence of the Lord was thick. I didn't learn until later that both Troys – “good” and “bad” - had never before danced with their wives before but there with yet another demonstration of how powerful the grace of God really is right before them, it would have been nigh unto a sin not to join in the...yes...the frivolity. Here was more proof that, just like the Scriptures say, “he makes all things new” (Rev 21:5). Come to think of it, Lillie spent nearly two decades in Africa and nobody can celebrate like them. Certainly in her time there she must have saw many a couple bind themselves together in holy matrimony. I wouldn't even be surprised to learn there was a bit of booty shaken around (certainly not hers but among the Africans) at those gatherings. I'm really not worried about it. One day perhaps Lillie and I will have a good laugh over it. But what I really witnessed on the sanctuary dance floor that night – and was a willing partner in it – was nothing less than an act of worship and thanksgiving performed for the One who is able to save to the uttermost.
|The smiles say it all|
One of the songs the Focus sang that night