DANCING ON STONES: A Quest for Joy

DANCING ON STONES: A QUEST FOR JOY

by
Paula Griffiths
FORWARD
Pray
through to victory!                                                                        
Name
it; claim it by faith and it is yours! 
These
were the catch cries of my church.
I
named and claimed, fasted and prayed, but nothing changed.
Why
was I suffering?
Why
were my prayers unanswered? 
What
was wrong with me?
Trying
to reconcile my life with what my church taught drove me to the edge of mental
breakdown.
 This is my story.
DANCE
A young couple moved through the bustle
of the after-church crush. Hand in hand they stood beaming at us, each waiting
for the other to start. Finally the young man stammered, “We are being married…
as you know. And… well… we were wondering if you… well… we thought… that
instead of a song… it would be different if you two would dance during the
“signing of the register.”
I looked to the young
woman and she nodded enthusiastically.
“Do you have a piece of
music in mind?” my husband asked.
“Well… no… but we
really like that harp and flute piece you danced to during Communion last
month. Something like that would be great.”
The piece was
choreographed and perfected. The big day arrived. As the final notes died away
and we turned to face the congregation, I saw tears in many eyes.
In a shower of smiles
and confetti, the happy couple left the church. On the steps an elderly lady
rushed forward and grabbed my hand. “Oh, that was so beautiful. Your love for
each other shone out from every movement. Oh, and at the end when he lifted you
high, gently lowered you… and directed your gaze toward heaven…well… it was
just the loveliest thing. You two are such a blessing to this church.”
     
                                                           
***
   My husband was away choreographing for a
small theater company.  I raced home
after

evening classes.  My mother met me
at the door, kissed me on the cheek, and told me our two small sons had eaten
all their dinner, and were tucked up in bed. I flew up the stairs, peeped into
their rooms and breathed a sigh of relief; they were fast asleep. I quickly
showered and changed my clothes. As I removed hairpins and shook my hair free I
heard voices in the lane so gave up on fixing my makeup and raced down stairs to
greet the first of our friends.

 Plates of homemade biscuits and muffins were
handed to me and heavy coats and scarves removed. Our old stone cottage had a
welcoming charm that drew people even on the coldest night. Everyone relaxed in
their favorite chair. The rustle of pages, the soft rise and fall of voices,
and the crackle of the fire were the familiar sounds of our Bible study.  Chatter and laughter during supper reached
such a pitch it woke the boys.  I went
upstairs to settle them again which took quite some time. Coming downstairs, I
found everyone had left quietly except one friend still clearing the supper
things.
“It’s lovely to come here and sit by the
fire with all your quaint old stuff about… sort of an escape from the real
world. I envy you, you know…beautiful home, happy marriage… Where’s the cling
wrap” she called over her shoulder as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“In the old pine
cupboard to the right of the fridge,” I answered from the sitting room.
I carried the last
things through to find her standing with the cupboard door open.
She looked up with a
troubled expression. “I didn’t know you were drinkers.”
 With a knot twisting tighter in my stomach I
moved to where I could see what she could see. There behind rolls of paper
towel and aluminum foil, lying on its side, almost hidden by a pile of paper
serviettes, was a half-empty bottle of rum.
“Left over from the
Christmas cake,” came the quick reply, but my heart sank. Would she guess my
secret? 
 My husband was an alcoholic but I smiled and
pretended everything was normal, for in our church, those with problems were
judged as spiritual failures.  As I
ushered my friend to the door I kept up a steady stream of pleasant chatter. I
closed the door and leant against it wondering how long I could keep living
this charade.
The charade had begun
years before…
 During our courtship there had been times when
I thought I detected a faint odor of alcohol about this man I loved. While
warming up for a performance one evening I was certain I could smell alcohol on
his breath but I did not know quite how to raise the subject so I teased him
about it. He laughed, “Mouthwash… I’m just being considerate!” He kissed me and
continued on with his warm up. Watching him move with such strength and ease it
seemed impossible he had been drinking but I felt uneasiness in the pit of my
stomach. I found myself keeping a close eye on him. Never once did I see
anything out of the ordinary. At opening night parties, where the champagne
flowed, he drank orange juice. I convinced myself I was just being silly,
worrying over nothing.  He loved me and I
loved him and a diamond sparkled on my left hand. What on earth was I worrying
about!
We had been married for
only a few months when, searching for a lost earring, I found a bottle hidden
under the seat of his car. That was the first of many such discoveries. Our
fairytale marriage became a nightmare. I begged him to stop drinking, to seek
help. He promised he would, but time and time again his promises were broken.
An old friend suggested
we come to church with her. At first I felt reluctant. I had tried everything
else… why not try this?  I had agreed to
go to church thinking it may help my husband yet Sunday after Sunday I found my
own heart touched; either the words of a song or the scripture reading seemed
to be just for me. I began to look forward to Sunday. I longed for the joy and
peace I saw in the faces of those around me but the more I longed for that
peace the more I was struck with my unworthiness. I had never felt anything
like it before. I had always considered myself to be a good person yet this
feeling of unworthiness would not go away.
As we left the church
one Sunday morning my friend slipped a small book into my hand. Only a few
weeks before I would have dropped that book straight in the rubbish bin but now
I held as though it was a precious treasure. 
I did not read it straight away but waited until late in the evening
when I could be alone.  I read, “For all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
(Romans 3:23) I felt a pang of doubt. What if my goodness was not enough? Could
this be why I felt unworthy? How could I be sure that if there was a heaven I
would go there? I continued to read through the little book. “For God so loved
the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not
perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) I struggled to understand
it.  What did it mean to believe in
Jesus? Did it mean to believe that He lived once, two thousand years ago, or
was there more? I went to bed with no answers. The next morning I rang my
friend and asked her to come over. She tenderly led me to understand that to
believe in Jesus meant to put my trust in Him. She told me that no one is good
enough. No one would make it to heaven if Jesus had not taken the punishment we
deserve. Jesus had paid the price for my freedom that, she said, is what I had
to trust in to be sure of eternal life. “He has been reaching out to you all
your life and he is reaching out to you now. If you ask Him He will bring to
your mind specific things for which you need to ask His forgiveness and if
nothing comes to mind simply tell Him you are sorry you have ignored Him all
these years and, most important of all, thank Him for paying for your freedom
with His life.”
 With tears I poured it all out, the words
tumbled over each other, until stillness filled my heart. Then, as my friend
led me, I prayed that Jesus would come into my innermost being and be Lord of
my life. I felt a joyous release. I knew I was forgiven, loved and accepted by
the One Who loves perfectly. Within me was undeniable new life. “Born again”
was a term I had heard but now I knew what it meant! I felt as though I had not
lived until that moment. The strength of the certainty that I was loved and
forgiven was like a light inside, transforming everything. Joy filled me. I
tried to tell my husband but could not adequately express the feeling of
release and renewal; it seemed beyond words.
 A few Sundays later, after the service was
over, I noticed my husband speaking with the minister and then they slipped
into the office.  I hoped my husband
would tell the minister everything. During the drive home that morning my
husband said nothing and I did not want to press him. The next morning the
ballet company left for an extended tour. I stayed home as we had just opened a
ballet school. My husband rang from his hotel room to tell me, what he had been
unable to say face to face, that he had accepted Jesus as his savior. I was
over joyed. If he felt as I did his drinking problem would be a thing of the
past!  Once he returned home from the
tour it quickly became obvious that little had changed.  I continue to find bottles. Each time he
would tearfully ask my forgiveness and promise not to drink. But there would
always be another bottle.
Thinking a quieter life
may help he left the company and we worked in the ballet school together;
picking up extra work choreographing and teaching in schools.  Once the demands of dancing professionally
were gone my husband’s drinking problem became worse. I went to our minister
and told him everything. The minister and his wife were discrete and
supportive. They prayed with my husband and arranged for him to have
counseling, making sure he attended A.A. But the pattern continued; broken
promises, repentance then more broken promises. 
Around the time our first son was born a
sweet move of the Holy Spirit swept through our small congregation. The joy was
contagious; transforming lives and bringing many to the Lord. Our small church grew rapidly. A larger
building was required and that soon filled to capacity. During those exciting
years there were miraculous answers to prayer and a number dramatic healings.
But not everyone was healed. My husband was not one of the blessed ones and I
wondered why.
 As word of the church’s “Revival” spread, many
people came from other churches, bringing with them new ideas. These newcomers
said those who were not healed “lacked faith” or were “in secret sin” Books on
prayer and spiritual warfare circulated through the congregation. These books
claimed that if prayers were to be answered, special phrases and verses of
scripture must be spoken and both the person being prayed for and the one
praying must be without sin.  Our
minister tried to stem the flow of these ideas but he simply could not; they
grew and took hold. What began as a trickle soon became a flood.
Our minister and a number of the
original congregation left but we stayed. This new teaching made sense to me.
There had to be a reason my prayers remained unanswered. Maybe I had not been
praying the right words. Maybe I was in sin and did not know it?  I began to search my life for things that may
not be right. I stopped going to the cinema and gave up choreographing Jazz
Ballet. Contact with friends outside the church became less and less.
A new minister came to
lead the church and with his coming the focus and teaching of the church swung
towards the extreme. He preached that a Christian’s birth right was health and
wealth; that suffering came only to those who were not right with God.  Weekend seminars were held to teach us how to
pray. There seemed to be so many rules.
 The only close friends who knew of my
husband’s problems had left the church; to those who remained we were the ideal
couple; the beautiful dancers with the beautiful home and the beautiful
children. My husband made it easy to keep up the illusion of the “beautiful
couple”. Attending church every Sunday, he appeared to be a committed
Christian. Always loving and attentive toward me and our two little sons, he
seemed the model husband. He never slurred his words or became violent or silly.
His tolerance of alcohol was so high even I found it hard to tell if he had
been drinking. His poise rarely wavered, and he was never without his
peppermints. Money missing from our bank account, my purse, or the ballet
school cash draw was the only sure indicators he was drinking heavily. I would
confront him, he would deny it. I would yell, he would cry and ask me to
forgive him.  He would assure me he was,
“trying so hard,” and “had been dry for weeks but had slipped up just this
once.” The scene was repeated over and over again. He could not bring himself to admit the extent of his
problem. He wanted to be sober, he wanted me to think he was
sober, he wanted my respect and the respect of the church, yet he simply could
not beat this thing. I loved him dearly and saw his pain. I longed to help him.
Years of prayer and fasting as the church taught brought no
release, yet I did not give up hope. I firmly believed it was only a matter of
continuing in prayer. God would heal my husband! I had no doubt.
THE
ILLUSION CRUMBLES
     
My muscles ached. Saturday was a long exhausting day when my husband was
working away. I taught every class without break.  After the luxury of a long bath I snuggled
into bed. The sheets were cool and crisp to the touch.  Stretching across to my husband’s side, I
took his pillows and propped myself up. Tonight I could read as long as I
wanted; he would not be home until Sunday evening.
    
I woke with a start. The light was still on; my book lay open where it
had fallen. A car started and quickly accelerated, its note droning off into
the distance. I turned off the light, rolled over, and fell into a deep sleep.
    
Getting two little boys dressed in time for church is a struggle for two
parents. On my own it seemed to take three times as long.
    
“Quickly boys, hop in the car. If we don’t hurry, we’ll be late.”
   
 Number one son jumped from the
back seat to the front to play driving as I buckled up his brother. “Look,
Mummy, there’s a letter on the steering wheel!”
    
Even from the back seat I recognized my husband’s writing. How could
this be–wasn’t he miles away? Then I remembered the car driving off in the
middle of the night. With trembling hands I pulled the note off the steering
wheel. As I read my throat tightened. 
The boy’s chatter seemed to come from a far distance. I was alone with
my fear.
     
I have been drinking again and no
longer want to put you through the heartache.”
    
This had the sound of a suicide note.
 
I frantically called the company he had gone to work with the day before
only to be told that he had not worked with them for months. I then called
anyone and everyone who might know where he could be. Finally I rang the police
and reported him missing. I desperately prayed he was safe.
     Days
passed into weeks with no clue. Night after night my little boys would cry for
their daddy and ask where he was and when he was coming back. I tried to
comfort them, holding them close. Their sobs tore at my own pain, making it
almost unbearable. I longed to make the empty promise that daddy would be home
soon, anything to ease their pain.
Students and parents
whispered about my husband’s sudden disappearance. Gossip quickly spread to the
wider community, so it was not long before the truth was uncovered. My husband
had run off with another woman, who had left her husband and children. Pain tore
through my heart, but there was greater pain to come.
In a city as small as
ours it is usually impossible to keep anything a secret, yet I had never heard
the gossip that had been common knowledge. With my husband gone, people came
forward to tell me what they knew; first the lady at our corner shop, then my
hairdresser. Shock followed shock, blow after blow. I would still be trying to
come to terms with one startling revelation when another would hit me.
 At first I could not accept what I was hearing.
It seemed unbelievable, a soap-opera plot—yet there were too many stories that
verified each other. As the pieces came together, I could no longer deny the
obvious. The bitter reality was, from the very beginning of our marriage, my
husband had been living a double life. The affairs were so numerous, he must
have moved straight from one conquest to another. There could never have been a
time when he was not involved with someone else.
There was one final
knockout blow and it sent me reeling. Some of those affairs had been with men.
I thought I knew him! During all the years of dancing together, I never
suspected this!  Waiting for results of
an A.I.D.’s test was agonizing; it was weeks before I knew it was clear.
Pain engulfed me, consumed me. I
struggled to comprehend the scope of the deception. My life was an unfamiliar
landscape and I was lost in it. Nothing had been as it seemed, even happy
memories were now tainted. Gnawing pain made it impossible to sleep. Night
after night I sat alone in the dark. The crackle of the fire and its soft glow
usually brought some comfort but one night I noticed the firelight reflecting
on our photos. Our smiling faces seemed to mock me. The happy life those photos
showed had never existed. Our whole marriage had been a lie. Anger fueled by
grief welled up. One by one I removed each photo from its frame and burnt it.
With shaking hands I pulled the albums from the bookcase and did not stop until
every memento of our years together had been consigned to the flames.
On those sleepless nights my thoughts
whirled with endless questions. I asked myself how I could have been so blind.
How I could have lived with him all these years and not seen, not suspected?
Those questions filled me with self-doubt. 
Other questions brought doubt of a different kind, doubt that tore at
the very fabric of my faith.
Why had God allowed this to happen?
Where did I go wrong? Could I have done more? Should I have prayed more, fasted
longer? Was there some key or formula I had missed? Nothing made sense anymore.
I balanced on a tiny square of faith. My one piece of solid ground was that
Jesus had died for me, that I was saved. Past the edges of that tiny square was
an abyss of nothingness. I had no faith to pray; it now seemed futile to pray.
I had prayed for years and it had come to nothing. I longed for God, for the
trust and the certainty I had known, but they had slipped away; I could not
reach them.

 I could no longer trust God, and because I
could not trust Him, I felt overwhelming guilt. Doubt and guilt were like twin
enemies who followed me day and night, sucking me into black waters. I was
drowning—trying to cling to what I believed, yet there was nothing to hold me
up.