Dancing with My Father: How God Leads Us into a Life of Grace and Joy

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9780307457066: Dancing with My Father: How God Leads Us into a Life of Grace and Joy

Let Your Soul Dance with Delight in God
 
Do you sometimes feel victimized by circumstances? Are you overwhelmed by weariness, fear, or discouragement? Do you wonder, Where can I go to claim the promise of Jesus that my joy could be made full?
When trusted author and mentor Sally Clarkson noticed a lack of joy in her own life, she realized how easy it can be, especially for women with overloaded to-do lists, to feel weighed down by drudgery and disappointment. But rather than slogging through her days, Sally wanted to know the delight of God's presence. She began prayerfully exploring how to cultivate deep-rooted joy even in the midst of difficult seasons.
In this warm and wise book, she invites you to experience for yourself what happens when you trust God to lead you into a life of anticipation, passion, and purpose.
Weaving biblical insights with real-life stories that reflect every Christian woman's deepest longings, Dancing with My Father reveals how any woman, in any circumstance, can daily live in beauty and grace, joy and peace.

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About the Author:

Sally Clarkson is a popular speaker who has worked in various ministries for more than thirty years. She is the author of several books, including The Mission of Motherhood. She and her husband, Clay, are the cofounders of Whole Heart Ministries, which encourages and equips Christian parents. The Clarkson's live with their four children just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
The Search for Joy in a Less-Than-Perfect World
 
Monday morning was here again. I opened my eyes reluctantly, since snuggling under my warm covers on this snowy, Colorado spring day seemed more desirable than facing the responsibilities that shouted for my attention. Marriage. Parenting. Church. Work. Extended family. Friends. Everyone and everything seemed to need me, constantly wanting more and more of my time and attention, leaving little for me and my passions
and interests.
 
After twenty-eight years of marriage and twenty-five years of parenting, I was accustomed to these burdens that sometimes weighed heavily on my shoulders. As I lay in bed, I compiled a mental list of what was ahead of me in my day. Making breakfast for two of my children who were still at home; finishing the dishes from last night’s dinner party; attacking the piles of laundry that had accumulated over the last busy week; facing the deadline on a freelance project that still wasn’t finished; helping my daughter with her history report; discussing with my husband how to deal with our sons’ college bills and the need to replace the tires on our older car...
 
On and on the list grew until I wanted to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed. I was already weary of the work ahead, and the day had not even begun!
 
In the midst of this, my fourteen-year-old daughter came into my bedroom with tears in her eyes. “Mom, do you remember my friend from church who’s been battling a brain tumor?”
 
“Yes,” I told her. I remembered him well. My daughter and I had prayed often for his healing.
 
“I just got an e-mail that he died this morning. I don’t get it. We prayed so hard!”
 
“I know,” I said, hugging her to me.
 
“I just feel so empty.”
 
We talked and prayed, and I was struck again by thoughts that had captivated my attention for almost a year. With so much sadness and so many daily burdens to shoulder, how do Christian women maneuver steadily through this journey of life with joy and peace of heart intact? What does it look like to be a woman filled with joy, every day, all the time, no matter what? In the deluge of all the stresses and disappointments in a fallen world, how does a mature Christian woman really walk in the power of the Holy Spirit? How does she face each situation with gladness, despite the relentless and demanding day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year things that would rob her of emotional and creative energy, such as chores, bills, arguments, messes? Or how does she maintain joy in the center of more devastating troubles: a divorce, the tragic death of a loved one, a child who has a chronic illness or disability, rejection by family members, alcoholism and drug-related scars, a job layoff ?
 
For me, the times I struggle most to experience joy are when I feel an invisible finger pointing at my heart, accusing me of all my inadequacies: How can you be a Christian this long and still lose your temper or struggle with pettiness, entertain critical attitudes, fluctuate in your emotions and in your walk with the Lord? Guilt over disappointing God or others sometimes lurks in the recesses of my mind and hovers silently like a cloud over my subconscious soul. After all, I have been a Christian for many years and am perceived as a mature leader, writer, and speaker; shouldn’t I be able to conquer these obstacles with confidence and strength? Shouldn’t joy be as natural to me as breathing?
 
PONDERING IN POLAND
My daughter went back to her room to get ready for school. Slowly I got out of bed and moved to the kitchen to brew some tea. As I looked out the kitchen window, I thought back to a similar spring morning, almost exactly one year before, when I first began to wrestle with this issue. That particular April morning found me sitting on a park bench outside the old city gates of Krakow, Poland, my last stop on a mission trip. Many years before when I was a young missionary, Krakow was where I grew into my idealism about life and faith. This was the place where I began to live passionately for the Lord, where I determined to walk each day with my hand in his.
 
Now I had returned to Poland, still idealistic in my heart, but a weary, life-worn, older Christian looking for spiritual equilibrium. Returning to a place that held such wonderful spiritual memories provided a good opportunity for me to reevaluate my life, to take inventory of my spiritual resources, and to judge whether I needed any midcourse correction.
 
Before arriving in Poland, my mission trip had led me through five countries and numerous encounters with groups, leaders, and individuals. Although I know it might sound adventurous and exciting, my packed schedule of meetings and speaking engagements, over a period of three weeks, traveling on planes and trains, sleeping in all sorts of beds, and eating a variety of unfamiliar foods was physically and emotionally
taxing. But even with the physical demands, I found that my body was not nearly as weary as my spirit.
 
On this trip, I conversed with countless people—many who were committed to Christ, and some who had been leaders and missionaries for many years. Spending time with them put me on spiritual battlegrounds where many of these devoted had been injured. I took their burdens into my own life. As I listened to person after person share their depression and soul battles, their temptation to give up on ideals, and how they each sought to keep their heads above the waters of despair, I realized I needed their mirror to look into my own soul.
 
I wanted to live freely and celebrate the joy that God promised as a fruit of his Spirit, and to live it out in the midst of a less-than-perfect world that challenges my faith and Christian paradigm every day. Having lived as a spiritually committed person for many years, I saw that my soul had slowly been drained by taxing relationships and circumstances, the mysteries of life that cultivate doubt, and a culture that fosters cynicism. I had battled through depression several times while enduring bitter trials and deep hurts at the hands of others, mostly Christians. Facing all these difficulties had, at times, left me fearful of life. When I had struggled through so many life-wars in my past, how could I face what was ahead without fear or doubt in God’s ability to do something, especially when often he seemed silent and unaware of my needs?
 
I sat on the park bench in Poland wondering how my friends and I had become fragile, discouraged, and vulnerable, bearing the hurts and burdens of life. Is it even possible to live as a joyful Christian in this fallen world? I asked myself. Do I really know what it means to live a victorious Christian life? Scripture seemed to promise power, happiness, the fruit of the Spirit, and unconditional love amongst believers. But that was not always my normal experience, and apparently it was not the normal experience of the many Christians and missionaries I met throughout the years.
 
As I sat and pondered, I realized that I didn’t really believe any differently than I had so many years ago when I was fresh and young and innocent. My journey began by holding God’s hand, and I knew that I was still holding on. Yet I could see that somewhere along the way, I had become less confident that I even knew what it meant to walk hand in hand with him. My sense of security in my relationship with him had been gradually worn down by the scars and injuries of daily life. My head told me that God was still there, offering the promises he’d always held out to me. But my heart struggled to find assurance.
 
Help me, I prayed. And that small park, in the midst of obscurity where no one knew my whereabouts, became a sanctuary in which I met, once again, with God.
 
Memories flooded my mind as I thought about the familiar haunts of my youth, some thirty years before when I started out as a missionary in this country. In order to live “freely” in Poland, my friend Gwen and I enrolled in the Jagiellonian University as students. But in reality, that was our cover; we were there to take the sweet message of Christ to this country that had been overwhelmed by communism.
 
I traveled through communist Eastern Europe, when Christianity was forbidden to be practiced, taking messages to secret Christian contacts in Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Hungary and meeting with people to teach them the Word of God. These were the days when I cut my spiritual teeth, gathering with people who were hungry and excited to receive the message of God’s love.
 
A deep happiness and joy had energized those days, as I sensed that I was part of a strategic work for the kingdom of God. I experienced heartfelt satisfaction because I confidently believed I was God’s hands and voice to people who were so responsive to the simple messages of his love and redemption. Innocence and idealism ruled authoritatively in those days when hope and childlike faith protected my heart from the despair of life in a fallen world. Joy fed my soul daily as I saw many people respond to our sincere messages. Miracles were an expected order of my day, when prayers forGod’s help and leading were offered with unwavering confidence.
 
A CHILD’S DANCE
There in the park I remembered the good feelings of that time when life felt exciting and all dreams were possibilities. It dawned on me that I had felt this excitement at other times in my life: when I was engaged to be married, pregnant with my first child, starting our first church job, moving into missions with my husband and children. Each anticipated change brought a surge of expectation and confidence that good things lay ahead, an assurance that my life held the hope of goodness and joy and satisfaction. All these positive feelings were fueled by dreams of what I thought life could hold. Often my dreams had not reflected the reality of the burdens and responsibilities that such life decisions would entail. As a young woman, I hadn’t yet even understood the costs of living life idealistically in a fallen world.
 
What had changed? What had shifted my heart from the passion and excitement of childlike faith to weary plodding, faithfully putting my foot down one step at a time while feeling the heaviness of life on my shoulders? I had let my burdens weigh me down and throw a shadow over my thoughts and emotions. As I grew older, hope and excitement
at the prospect of a new adventure in marriage, parenting, work, or church were often replaced with disappointment and disillusionment.
 
I sat on that park bench and found myself longing for the energy, hope, and joy of the earlier days when I had begun this journey. Realization dawned upon my heart: I didn’t want to live as a victim—cynical, depressed, and overwhelmed by the load that so many carried. I wanted that childlike innocence that believed in the goodness of God.
 
Not wanting my circumstances to determine my attitude toward life and my spiritual stability, I prayed, Lord, please show me how to maintain joy, to cultivate an inner peace and delight, a strength that will support me through sadness and difficulty. Help me to end my life well, to still be as resilient as I was when you first called me to be yours. Let me find you and your reality anew.
 
At that moment, my eyes were drawn to a little boy, twirling and dancing in circles. He held his hands high above his head, grasping at tree blossoms falling gently like snowflakes in the soft breeze. His chubby toddler face was full of delight. Obviously unencumbered and totally unselfconscious, he giggled each time he caught a falling blossom.
 
That is how I want to be, I realized. I wanted to be as a child, delighting in life, at peace with God, living in the grace of the moment. I wanted to live above the pull of depression and cultivate a heart of joy from which others could draw. I wanted to learn what it really meant to be filled with the reality of God, the love of God, and the joy of God every day, no matter what else was going on in my life.
 
I knew I stood at a crossroad that would determine what kind of a Christian I would be from that point forward: victorious, lighthearted, and free—or downcast, weighed down, and wounded. I realized that I didn’t want to cross the finish line of life gasping for spiritual breath, clenching my teeth as I wearily crossed into the presence of God.
Although I didn’t want to be a Pollyanna, pretending away sadness, pain, and difficulty and denying the real grieving that comes with loss and disappointment, I did want to find the good in all things, to experience the reality of God’s joy anew right in the middle of my trials and stresses.
 
And so began a spiritual journey, a search for biblical joy, the kind that satisfies deeply, that brings hope through tears, love when wronged, and peace that passes understanding.
 
MY DANCE WITH MY FATHER
Now here I was, one year after my crossroads decision on that park bench, sipping tea while thoughts of my menial daily tasks, my daughter’s friend’s passing, and the memories of my prayer in Poland mingled in my mind. As I settled into my quiet-time chair, a blue Queen Anne chair close to my bed, another memory came, this one from almost fifty years before. As I remembered the little boy twirling and dancing in the park, it was as though the Holy Spirit directed me to a long-ago image that he wanted me to have—that of dancing with my father.
 
My sweet father was a bigger-than-life figure tome when I was a little girl. Standing at six feet three in his stocking feet, he was a slim, towering figure, always poking or patting someone. He was an extrovert’s extrovert, full of life and constantly making friends wherever he went. He was always bright and smiling, kind of a song-and-dance man—whistling, singing, or humming, with a wink and a wiggle as he danced his way through life. His friends in college called him “Slick,” a nickname that stuck because he was, for his time, the epitome of “cool.” Although he was naturally outgoing, I think part of his personality was also shaped from growing up as a Depression child, surrounded by much sadness. As an adult, he seemed determined to live with as little acknowledgment of sadness as possible, to work hard to provide for his family, and to give us opportunities to enjoy the pleasures of life that his own parents had not been able to afford.
 
I loved my father, and I know he loved me and my brothers. And yet, probably like other children of my generation, I didn’t receive a lot of personal, one-on-one time with him. He worked long hours to provide for my mother, two older brothers, and me. Although ours was a secure home, filled with lots of family time and people, time alone with my dad—just him and me—was rare, and so precious and treasured.
 
I used to write stories about him and was thrilled when he gave me any sort of special attention, kissed my cheek, or spoke a personal word of love or affirmation.
 
One vibrant summe...

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