Picture Week

June 14, 2022

As we celebrate the 25-year anniversary of Reflections School of Dance, I’d like to say that I have seen it all, but I can honestly admit I have not seen it all and I get both pleasant and unpleasant surprises on a weekly basis. In the days since we opened our doors to serve the community in 1997, lifestyles have changed, the layout of the neighboring community has changed, the way I teach dance has changed and the way people parent has changed. I would like to believe I have done a decent job of adjusting and rearranging to accommodate those changes but there is something I am little stubborn on. Correction, it is something I might be allot stubborn on. I don’t think we need to award and gift children for the ability to receive their awards and gifts. Don’t worry, I didn’t stutter just now and yes, you did read that correctly. To explain, the privilege of taking dance class is indeed a privilege and the proper response from the dance student would be to try their best, fully enjoy the experience and then express proper gratitude for the joy they were given.

This week however, on more than one occasion I became privy to the most unexpected interactions. It is picture week which can indeed be chaotic in its very nature if clients have not had a chance to read their newsletters or hear the studio announcements for picture week protocol. We run a pretty tight ship with many students, a staff shortage and a limited timeframe. Each group has 30 minutes to take individual photos with multiple poses and a group photo before proceeding to the opposite classroom to run through the recital dance in costume. Super fun! Yes, it’s busy. Yes, it takes focus. Yes, it’s hard work but this is part of the deal. A student registers for dance class which is an extracurricular activity, they have attended class for many months to gain needed skills, they are fitted for beautiful costumes and like Christmas day, they anticipate recital day. Parents pay tuition money, create weekly schedules and transportation, studio owners and teachers create quality programs with all that that entails, and the participating students are honored with the special opportunity to be a part of it all. The culmination is picture day, rehearsal and RECITAL! Day number one of picture day (We have 6 picture days) a little girl who has not attended her class for several weeks is given a beautiful costume. Although they should have arrived already in costume with hair and make-up done, this one came into the photography room kicking and screaming with hair flying everywhere. In attempt to get the child to cooperate we hear the mother promising ice cream and a pony. A pony? Does that seem a little extra?

Two days later, a little girl who refused to put on her gloves and headpiece which are a part of the costume was told by her mother that Miss Debbie would put the gloves and headpiece on her and if she would wear these items for pictures, she would get chocolate.

What? Why don’t I get the ice cream the pony and the chocolate? If not me, why is the mom not getting the ice cream, the pony and the chocolate? The child who was just given the gift of dance, a fabulous costume and a potential photo shoot is being bribed to partake.

When Miss Debbie attempted to execute her assigned task of putting the gloves on the little dancer and placing the head piece is her hair, the dancer reciprocated by clenching hands into fists to prevent the fingers from extending into the gloves. The headpiece was promptly pulled out of the hair and dropped on the floor. I can only hope the behavior was not rewarded with the promised chocolate.

My old school brain wonders why I can’t reward this behavior with a swat on the bottom? After swatting the bottom of each and every little child who needs it, because the parents refuse to swat, I would like to request a thank you gift of ice cream, a pony and a generous amount of chocolate.

On dress rehearsal day, after 6 days of picture days, said gloves and headpiece dancer shows up backstage for dress rehearsal with no gloves and no hat. I said, “Oh Honey, it’s time to go on stage. Where is the rest of your costume?” The answer, “I don’t have to wear it because I don’t want to”. Miss Debbie, the oldest school brain woman in the world responded with. “Well you might WANT to wear it next week for the show if you want permission to go out on that stage”.

Now, we wait …….It’s only been 25 years. I can wait a few more days to see if we have compliant dancers onstage.

The Sadness

May 30, 2022

It has been a long minute since I last blogged. I lost steam. I lost interest. There was no motivation because I was lost and did not think it fair to invite the general public into my lost state. I enjoy reading from authors who seem to have it going on and can give a sense of security and direction to the reader. Without direction or closure, I would be left wondering what the last few moments of my time had been used for. I read for enjoyment and betterment, but I NEVER want to feel that I have wasted anything including my time. Don’t we all enjoy the feeling of completing something, closing the box and sealing it with a neat and tidy bow? We would never seal the box on a half-finished project, and I am uncomfortable with clicking publish on an unfinished thought even if only one person were to read it. So, the blogs stopped. I do write, podcast, choreograph, drink coffee and crochet in private. The words and the creativity do flow which is therapeutic for me, but I have not much shared these things. When I hit 55 years old, my body, brain and emotions all felt simultaneously different, and I thought I would simply bounce back to my “normal” after a season of rest and adjustment but normal seemed to be a thing of the past. Coping with the idea that our younger child was in her senior year of school, and we would soon be empty nesters, I developed an insatiable desire for a puppy and by Christmas of that year had the most adorable puppy that any woman could dream of. The following spring, we were hit with a global pandemic that brought any sense of predictability to a grinding halt. Like most humans I braced myself for a difficult couple of weeks. Weeks became months and months became years. My motus operandi was to focus on 24-hour periods. The puppy, now 70 pounds helped with this living in the moment mentality as he requested constant attention and took my mind off the troubles. I became the world’s greatest dog mom, and his every whimper was catered to in detail until the following new year when both my husband and I contracted the virus and I was so sick that I could not leave my bed for a full 2 weeks. The high energy 15 month old puppy was neglected. As if my personality did not already carry undo weights of guilt and responsibility, the idea of my baby boy feeling neglected while I tried to recover from Covid-19 was more than I could bear and I re-homed him. Now he gets to play on a hobby farm with a beautiful loving family where there is no traffic to endanger him but I still miss him dearly. This long season of pandemic fall out, political unrest, students who have fallen behind in both school and motivation have done something to my psyche. Where is the perky, funny, explosive dance teacher that gets the students excited to get out on stage and express themselves? Her 58 year old body and brain threaten to fail her. Her eternal PATIENCE for middle school girls who think they own the world and tell you as much on a daily basis has gotten up and left the room. The middle school girls may very well still be standing in the middle of the room assuming life revolves around them but the eternal patience for them has left the room. The motus operandi for 24 hour periods has shrunk to 4 hour periods and sometimes 30 minute periods if it involves preschoolers and their mothers. Most of my life I have been that woman that when her feet hit the floor in the morning, the devil cowers and screeches, “Oh No. She’s up!” In recent mornings the idea of breathing or standing up without getting light headed is an idea too big to execute. So this is burn out. I have read books about it and prayed for people who were experiencing it. When I first heard the term years ago it became sort of a cultural catch phrase. Every person who didn’t feel like doing something was claiming burn out and I was tempted to take over the work load for these poor lazy people while they laid in lawn chairs eating cupcakes all afternoon……until I hit this season and I realize it would take me an immense amount of energy to go out into the yard, unfold the lawn chair and sit down. Who would even bake the cupcakes? I am too tired.

I am now at risk of someone reading this, rolling their eyes and offering to take over the workload for my lazy self and to them I might say, “Have at it!” Every eighth-grade girl who has ever stood in my classroom thinking how ridiculous I am as a teacher, coach and director, you may now have the floor. Come prove yourself to be the amazingly smart, mature individual that you believe yourself to be. Every client who has visited our school for a minute or a year and then had the nerve to give me a bad online review, have at it. Instead of offering criticism and disappointment about how you didn’t get your precious way maybe you could do something constructive like serving.

It is unfortunate that in my experience it is those who say the most that know the least. When asked to put a little action to all that mouthiness they might stand like a deer in the headlights not moving a muscle. I am reminded of that old phrase, “Talk is cheap”.

It is said that recovery from burn out takes about 2 years. Great. I will be 60 by then. I am going to lean into the power of writing and blogging as a means of burn out recovery. If any reader finds validation in following my process of recovery, feel free to read on.

A reader may sense cynicism and defeat in my communication. That is not my intention but if that is part of growth than so be it. For me, it is more like honesty. I know myself to be upbeat and optimistic, but a human can only take so much before I might request that others start to share some of the emotional burden. Maybe some of the folks I have been serving could graciously receive the gift they have been given and take responsibility for it. Running a dance school is like being a mom with many kids. These kids, however, do not grow up and move out. They multiply. Every year, another batch of them will become 8th graders, meaning I will NEVER be promoted from the position of being disrespected by them and hearing the same broken record phrases.

“While I stand on the beautiful green grass of your classroom, may I just point out how much greener the grass is EVERYPLACE else but here?”

“Hi. My name is Angsty Annie. My life wouldn’t suck so much if you would pick music that isn’t this music, make the choreography harder and easier at the same time, get me a different costume, let me hangout with my nonexistent boyfriend instead of having to take technique and basically be a better director than the one you are. I wish you actually knew what you were doing.”

Now do I blame these circumstances for my sadness? No, I do not but I do acknowledge them. I am no longer in optimistic denial that if only I would work harder things would change. I am no longer pretending that those sour attitudes are okay and if only I would try harder, I could help fix those attitudes.

To my original statement, I am uncomfortable with publishing unfinished work with inconclusive statements but since it evidently takes 2 years to crawl out of burn out, I don’t want to go 2 more years without writing.

Love, Peace, Recovery!

Breath of the Spirit

July 9, 2020

young asian sportswoman having rest after workout in park

Breath

photo of woman walking on dock with her dog

Walking Calmly

2020 needs to take a breath. I keep waiting on the final knock out punch to hit when my breath is knocked out of me and I truly just don’t recover. Folks can’t breath because the Corona virus effects the respiratory system. Another can’t breath because an out of line police officer used enough force to suffocate him. Others can’t breath because they are now required to wear masks for long, inopportune periods of time which limits the oxygen flow.

For approximately five months now, I have been silent. I am staying pleasant. I do not judge what others may or may not be experiencing. I make very little comment, if any, on social media.

I had planned to ride this wave peacefully and possibly make a comment or two once the storm subsided and things calmed down. This notion is now problematic because God only knows when this storm of 2020 will actually subside if ever.

For years I have had an issue in which life would get crazy and a dull or uncomfortably sharp pain would manifest over my chest. I have learned to identify it as stress and conflict related. Knowing the source allows me the ability to manage it. In this five month period it has reared up three times which is too often but there is nothing about this  season that I could possibly “manage”. There is no way to simply “de-stress” or take a break. Where are you going to go? There is a travel ban.

I am trying to catch my breath because I am suffocating in a sea of judgement. I have observed that this is the season for busybodies, experts and self righteousness. One tactic has been to limit my time on social media so I can socially distance myself from the statements about mask wearing, non mask wearing, protesting, rioting, gun carrying, passivity, skin color, essential business, the quality of sanitizer, liberals, conservatives, being heard, avoidance, animal cruelty, non essential business…..

The other day I was calmly walking my dog. I was alone so no socializing (which we have been given rules for) was going on. The dog had already pooped at a convenient place so I could clean it up in a timely manner. All was going well except that I needed to readjust my sweater while holding a lease. So I stepped off the sidewalk where there was a little neighborhood playground. It was not taped off with all that God awful caution tape so I sat down on the bench to for approximately 7 seconds before a car ever so slowly pulled up and stopped right there, to watch me. What did they think they were going to see? I stood back up, tied the sweater around my waist, grabbed the lease and kept walking so they could feel comfortable enough to go on their merry way, hopefully minding their own merry judgemental business. (Is being judgmental essential or non essential?) As I continued my walk home, I pondered this interaction and this blog was prompted. I wondered why on a 4.5 mile walk I would not be provided the luxury of sitting down for a short moment before proceeding home. I wondered if I should use even the tiniest bit of brain power to worry about it. Even IF I, the middle aged women HAD been littering, sitting on a bench, allowing my dog to poop in the grass AND tying my sweater at the same time while smoking pot in the park, why the quick judgement? Are we really that high strung these days that we cannot allow another human a couple of seconds to catch her breath and adjust her sweater? Talk to me.

As I proceeded home I was also prompted to start praying for a fresh touch from God’s Spirit. I needed to breath Him in and feel the fullness of His freedom. In the very midst of this ridged environment, I can feel His forgiveness, His freedom and His breath.

Additionally, by the time we hit the 10th of September, two months after writing this original article the results of wildfire season hit our area with unusual intensity. The sky is a milky color that blocks the sun until it appears to be a faint orange ball in the distant sky giving one the feeling of a haunting sci-fi movie. The visibility is one thing but what strikes me AGAIN is the assault on our breathing. The news is saying that the air quality is so poor that we should not leave our homes all weekend. In fact, we should stay inside with the windows and doors closed all weekend. Is it possible the prince of the air (Ephesians 2:2) is once again stirring up his mischief?

Zoom Room Etiquette

May 15, 2020

The Corona Pandemic forced many of us to move quickly and fiercely to transition to online platforms for communication and business. This article may go without saying for some, but video communication is less familiar to especially the older population (in which I include myself) so I’d like to offer some food for thought regarding Zoom Room Etiquette.

You may not be used to checking your own reflection very frequently as you would not want to seem “vain” but out of respect to the others in your meeting, please do check your reflection.

  1. Be aware of camera angles. We all prefer to not be looking up your nose the whole time.
  2. Dress Code.  “Shelter in Place” does not excuse you to be sloppy and unkempt. You are still doing business so you should dress for success.
  3. Consider your odd little personal mannerisms that are now on display. Hair twisting, fidgeting and tapping your fingernails may very well help you focus but such behaviors can be distracting for other meeting participants.
  4.  Keep your hands out of your face and obviously, don’t pick your face.
  5.  If you must eat or multitask, temporarily turn you camera (and mic) off.
  6.  Take note of what is behind you before logging on. The rest of your home or room can  be distracting but (just my opinion) avoid tacky artificial backgrounds that can be even worse. Trying to “advertise on the side” probably lessens your credibility rather than boosting it unless the host has specifically encouraged everyone to bring personal interests and side jobs into the meeting for some purpose.
  7.  Meeting moderator or host can politely, but firmly set the tone for group sharing by perhaps calling on participants by name. There always seems to be one person (who is not the host) who enjoys hearing their own voice more than anyone else’s voice which wastes time and honestly causes folks to lose interest.

This is not an exhaustive list but rather things that have caught my attention in our short Season of Zoom Spring 2020. Feel free to chime and help us all become more effective communicators.

Blessings!

people on a video call

 

To Health and Happiness

April 20, 2020

For the same reasons I started dancing and wanted to open a dance school years ago, I want to get back to teaching dance and re-open my dance school sooner than later.

Is my business considered “essential”? Perhaps not by some. I suspect we will be placed in a last category of businesses allowed to re-open the doors once regulations begin to lighten up. But it is essential to ME.  Those reasons that I mentioned earlier would be physical, emotional and mental. We need physical fitness for energy, strength, flexibility and balance. I doubt anyone would question the correlation of dance with fitness.  However, in these days of uncertainty, the emotional and mental aspects of health are of imperative consideration. Ask your student about the numerous times she or he arrived at the studio after an exceptionally bad day and came out of dance class later in a much better  place. The physical movement releases Serotonin into the body allowing lighter, happier feelings to be experienced. The emotional support offered by the teachers and classmates and the mental stimulation of memorizing the movement in dance class cannot be replaced by a computer screen in a closed in space. It cannot be exchanged with another sport or activity because for a dancer, this art form is what God created them to do. There are no other options. I will personally attest to this. I opened the school in 1997 after many years of my own joy in dance in my career path. Once the doors to Reflections School of Dance opened, nothing else outside those doors happened really. The value of passing dance on to the next few generations took over. It is the air we breath. I get this. So why would I want any of it to be taken away from the precious students yet to come?

Hang in there dancers. We are fighting for you and you WILL live your best dance life once again. Soon, I hope. We love you!

Three Female Dancers Dancing

Superbowl Halftime 2020

February 13, 2020

Truth is, I personally do not post much on social media. I try my best not to “react” to whatever is the latest topic of discussion but in this situation I feel a responsibility to respond. I am a dance teacher, a studio owner and a mentor. I have a love and respect for the performing arts. Two days after the Super Bowl game, I was approached with the question, “What did you think of the half time show?”

I don’t think the people were baiting me. I think they sincerely wanted to know my thoughts. These particular folks were troubled by it and rightly so. They are lovely, conservative people with young kids, hoping to raise them right and looking for role models. I am honored that they consider me a qualified role model for their daughter and they value my opinion.

If they were looking for a critique from me, I had none. Ya know, after all these years I have seen some good, bad and ugly shows. (Christian and non Christian alike) I had no critique. To me, it was just another show. But when I was questioned and I realized these people saw in me a person with a level of authority in this area, I gained a sense of responsibility to respond.

I am a Christian and I do not expect the world to use my same value system but I do expect all citizens of the planet to think about what we are passing on to the next generation. My thought while watching the show itself was, “How would I do it differently? How might I be an agent of change?” We have been watching the Super Bowl for years. We know people who change the channel or send the kids out to play football during the halftime show and we did just that when our kids were young.

With all the money spent and energy put into the project, is there not a way to entertain the masses, allowing the kids to comfortably remain in the room? We all love football and that is why we all gather to watch it. During halftime then sits a tremendous opportunity. We could use it to bring awareness to one of the million different causes out there. The options are endless and although there is value in entertainment simply for the sake of entertainment, my opinion would be that we can do better. Why would we not? Our human potential for influence and growth is unlimited so I say, entertain AND  improve. Improve in the message you send to the culture. Improve in the causes you support. Improve in wisdom. Improve in celebration.

The halftime show did indeed celebrate culture, generations, ageless beautiful talented women and football. Would I consider it family friendly? Probably not, but I am annoyed with the term family friendly and I have been for years. Christians love to use this term but it actually means nothing because with all the different forms of “family” and the plethora of belief systems within them EVERY thought and idea can be considered family friendly to somebodies’ family.  Could I have done with a few less crotch shots? Probably but I have learned to not let one or two unpleasantries  distract or rob from the whole of a show. There is SO MUCH that goes into a production of this magnitude. Timing, lighting, camera angles, music, choreography for multiple groups of people, staging, moving props and the list goes on. One must start with a simple respect for the accomplishment itself.

Looking back to a week and a half ago when the dance family asked my opinion on the halftime show, without much thought I simply said, “Well I would not have done it that way” and I handed them a flyer for our spring benefit show in which we will be fighting human trafficking. (As we have done for many years) They seemed satisfied enough with this so I think I will stick to it. 🙂

 

 

Seeds Planted

November 25, 2019

I am happy to report that seeds of truth and result are being planted at Reflections School of Dance. 23 years of faithful service, just trying to run business the best I can and not get too many people mad at me…..I keep on plugging away. Every once in a while, something cool happens and I think, “Thank you God. I am not wasting my life away here.” You see, if I clean my house I will finish with a tidy, clean house. If I sell product and make tons of money, the bank account will fill up. But when you do “ministry” or “create” it is challenging to see results. Do you count the number of salvation’s this week? Because most weeks there would be none. Do you document the number of miraculous healings? Because most times there would be none. Lately, I have I been content with the number of times I interact with a pre- school dance mom and avoid some ridiculous Yelp review.

The social climate we live in these days requires that people in any sort of leadership walk on egg shells at all times to avoid criticism and backlash. Folks are so fragile these days that the minute they do not agree with your policies and practices, it’s a bullying accusation and potential law suit. Grow up already!

Anywhoooo, the other night I was blessed beyond words when a young lady came into the studio absolutely beaming and she could not wait to tell me how her week had been. A little over a year ago, it was a weekly battle for her to enter the studio or participate in the class structure without terrible anxiety over which she could not gain control. Her beautiful teacher, her kind classmates and I all had opportunity to encourage her on various occasions. And, we prayed.

Early in the first semester of this year, her teacher was out of town and I was scheduled to substitute teach. One of the exercises I often do with dancers is to make them stand quietly and stare straight ahead…..into the mirror. The majority of teens will be highly uncomfortable with this one minute exercise. They may look down at the floor to avoid eye contact with their own reflection. They may just squirm and become red in the face but most likely, not enjoy it. At the most basis level, I am training them to look up and connect with the audience when on stage. They must first be confident to connect with themselves before gaining confidence in front of an audience.

Before progressing into the movement/choreography for the day I simply said, “Do not apologize for this time spent gazing into the mirror. It’s not arrogant. It is admiring God’s artwork.”

Well, evidently, it stuck for this young lady. One sentence in a one hour dance class impacted her entire week. She reported to me that she had shared this phrase with her life group and they decided to make it their new motto, perhaps printing it on T-shirts. Now how cute is that? Bless the Lord O my soul! I truly felt like that week, we had gotten somewhere.

Every chance you get, plant some encouragement. You never know when it is going to stick. (and hopefully grow)

 

“It’s not arrogant. It is admiring God’s artwork”.

Crazy Message Custom T-shirt | Personalized T-shirts

Upward!

November 25, 2019

Why would I settle for bad choreography or bad art and say it’s okay because it is as unto the Lord? Why would I settle for bad anything for that matter? He deserves the highest praise. He deserves the most excellent of excellence because He is the most excellent of excellence. At my age, I have seen quiet a bit of bad art, bad worship dance and cheesy choreography. Was it lack of self esteem on my part? Why was it tolerated? Did I not know any better? Lord forgive me. I promise to no longer settle. It is good to feel content and peaceful with God but not good to take Him for granted, settling for mediocre because I know He loves me anyway. In spite of His unconditional love for me I strive to move upward. I ascend.

In every area of our lives, like a beautiful hot air balloon lifting off let us arise. May we gain greater perspective and may we improve on all fronts. The higher we go, the more visible we become. Let me commit to being something worthy of being seen.

photo of woman wearing sun hat

 

Reviews Reviews

October 28, 2019

These days we have the capability to easily publish and it’s a good thing since our culture is obsessed with being published. For those of us who enjoy playing with words, this whole phenomenon is a blast. Words are art.

According to the Bible, words are power. The power of life and death are in the tongue and I would dare to say in the written word so let’s consider what we say and write.

As of late I have been amazed and stunned by the liberty people take in reporting absolutely anything that enters their mind, not privately to a friend, but on a social media platform. I question whether the mind was even involved at all. Perhaps some words were simply birthed in ignorance and selfishness, taking the fast track straight to publishing with no brain activity needed because I will find myself saying, “If that person had stopped to think, perhaps they would not have said that” but I could be completely wrong.

I don’t make a sport of reading reviews but on the occasions that I do read them, I find them troubling.

It seems fashionable to complain, painting oneself in the victim role and once the complain train gets started it is a tough one to stop. Everyone wants to jump in with even bigger stories of the hardships they too have suffered.  My husband just showed me a writing where a woman was not simply reviewing a business but doing an emotional  rant on a very public social media platform for all to see and be effected by. She counseled all readers to boycott this business because she personally was dissatisfied with it. I read it and as a business owner I found it hurtful and disturbing. As someone in a service oriented business, it is frightening that we have created this social climate. A business can be doing EVERYTHING right. They can go above and beyond to create opportunities for families and community members but one slip up and the opinionated vultures are diving in. Were they actually stationed on the roof, waiting to catch that less than perfect bit of humanity in the business owner and make their attack? This particular incident was regarding a birthday party facility and when birthday party mom didn’t get the amount of kudos and discounts that she thought she deserved, she was diving in for the kill on the public platform. Her goal was to put the facility out of business….because her feelings were hurt? Did it occur to her that this business would be someone’s livelihood? When it comes to birthday parties, you know, it’s YOUR kid and you probably have a house where you could have hosted the party yourself, since you have so many opinions on how it could and should have been done. You could do the set up, prepare the food, serve the food, run the games and clean up your mess when you are done and that would have saved all the money you complain about having to spend at another facility.

The thing about reviews is …..When I do read them, I learn more about the individual writing the review then the business they are hoping to share about or slander. The writings are often full of emotion, full of grammatical errors and full of arrogance. Most business owners are honest, hard working people who have personally sacrificed great amounts to launch and maintain what they are doing. Most reviews are done by people who can hold an iPhone while sitting in a chair.

(A similar article was published here Feb. 2018)

The unusual amount of snow the PNW experienced in the winter of 2019 is sure to produce quite a few human birthdays for October of 2019. I suspect, also the birth of many baby books. Being snowed in may drive a few crazy while driving others to creativity and the execution of unfinished projects. Half knitted sweaters will finally be completed, rooms painted, laundry folded, cookies baked, sidewalks shoveled and books written. Let me join the movement. While members of this household remain nestled all snug in their beds I sit fully dressed, vanilla coffee in my favorite hand warmer mug that the kids bought me for Christmas, staring at the computer screen longing to get the proper words out of my head and through my finger tips.

2018 was a rough one. I did not lose any family members, personal body parts, large sums of money or suffer any sort of natural disaster. In fact I am so blessed it is embarrassing at times. I fiercely practice gratitude and thankfulness. Every morning I open my eyes to a wall of glass that overlooks a wooded area. I thank God that I have eyes to open. My feet hit the floor and they no longer hit the floor running but I thank God that I have feet and I can move at all. Without effort, the first words that sing inside my head before I am fully conscience are “Thank You Lord for a brand new day”. This is one line from a praise song that I had on a cassette tape 35 years ago. It is one line that stuck and I am so glad it did because it is a good one. So every day, I launch from that place and it’s just a great way to live. Through the hills and valleys of life I have carried praise and thanksgiving with me. A few valleys have gone pretty deep. In that dark shadowy place, praise can be found and its very rich. God created us with a free will to choose and by the Holy Spirit we have the power to choose right. I have also always tried to train and model this lifestyle for my family and my students. It’s gone really well. Thankfulness does not make us immune to struggle but it gives a tool with which to struggle. “Yet, will I praise Him”. I choose. My mind is steadfast on the Lord and I praise Him.

2018 gave me an opportunity to experience this on a different level. Now hear me correctly. I did not stop praising. In fact, I felt like I kicked up my thankfulness into 12th gear. Some folks may have thought there was something wrong with me as perhaps I was too happy but I am a believer that happy people draw happy people. Positive energy breeds positive energy. Praise leads to praise. Thankfulness partners with gratitude. But guess what?  A stubborn, bitter, ungrateful choice can become a stronghold. Because indeed, people have a free will,  choices made can become firm, immovable stands from which no  amount of praise and thanksgiving could shift them. The position they have taken is a choice and for better or worse they are entitled to it.

After an amount of time of simply encouraging folks to be more grateful, I noticed my old system didn’t work. I was meeting many new people who were joyful, positive and gracious. They seemed to really appreciate the atmosphere of my studio and my home. They were being affected in wonderful ways. They were growing and flourishing. Simultaneously I noticed a few folks being left behind as it were. I encouraged. I smiled. I made pleasant small talk but I became increasingly puzzled by the lack of parallel response.  I resembled it to gardening when I could move along at a steady pace pulling weeds and tossing them into the bucket until I came upon a thick, deeply rooted one that I could not budge. Under normal circumstances I might grab a different garden tool and just yank it out. But this was a “weed” I could not yank out for the life of me. In prayer one morning I asked the Lord why this was so complicated and I heard Him speak into my heart that I was dealing with a spirit rather than your regular moody person or unfortunate circumstance. The bitterness (ingratitude) had taken on a life of it’s own and being spirit in nature, was moving  and dodging so I could not get a firm grip on it. When I heard the Lord speak this, I rejoiced because I thought I had just been given the missing piece to my puzzle. The gardening tool to eradicate this unwelcome plant once and for all. The key that would unlock the door and flood my network with joy unspeakable. Easy, I thought. The antidote to a spirit of ingratitude must be more praise. I am good that at that! So, I amped up the praise. Praise on steroids! How wrong I was. It was not wrong for me to praise. In fact, we are instructed to praise all the time. My wrongness was in the assumption this would be easy. You see, a spirit which is not from God, once it has settled in as a stronghold, will not go easily. The enemy was never given a resting place by God so he roams around vainly looking for a resting place and once he identifies a way that he is welcome, he will move right on in and squat as long as he feels like it. He has set up camp. He is comfortable. He is eating cheetos, watching sitcoms, and napping right there in front of you. He has no plans of leaving anytime soon and he will take full advantage of his squatters rights. Ugh, squatters rights? It makes my blood boil that such a phrase even exists. Why should squatters have any rights at all? I know that everyone might want a home but not everyone deserves a home. At least not the devil. So how did he get in there? Someone opened the door. Someone had opened the door to complaining and ingratitude (It wasn’t me!!!!) within in the system of my dance studio and before I recognized what was going on, the enemy had done a fair amount of damage. I trust this will not happen again in the future because I will recognize the symptoms sooner and take action much sooner but for this time around, Whoa!

The process of this has truly taken a toll on me. None of us wants to admit that we might not know the answer on a specific challenge. But I did not know the answer and although I had given up on the idea of trying to solve the puzzle or fix any of the people involved I was left completely undone. At the time of this writing I do not think a single hour has passed in nine months that a thought of this situation and one main family involved has not crossed my mind. (Interesting that I began this entry with this thought of 9 month pregnancy and delivery-perhaps my deliverance is just around the corner!)

In a previous writing titled “Mature the Emotions, Budding Artists” I gave a nod to the bewilderment I have felt at times in the past 24 months. As artists, we tend to be sensitive and dynamic at the same time. If we as adults have not learned to manage this part of our personality appropriately we do not have the ability to guide our younger artists but I am committed to the continuing process of growth and maturity by the Holy Spirit. One of my points from that article regarded boundaries. It is the immature individual that does not create boundaries and an even more immature individual that does not respect boundaries, throwing a fit when any boundaries are placed on them. Confidently enforcing boundaries regarding teen-age moodiness and manners is new to me. The LEVEL of moodiness and lack of manners that exists in young people is new to me. So, I am still learning how best to maneuver through this unknown territory. A little slow in the take, I did not realize at first that this was happening. What I had not expected when putting clear guidelines in place was the amount of push back from both teens and their mothers. Some folks took the guidelines as a personal jab and responded with insult. I wanted to say, “Hey, if the shoe fits you put it on and wear it but if it does not apply to you, ignore it and go on your merry way” but quite the opposite happened. The folks that could have ignored the guideline became fearful and nervous while the ones who should have been putting those shoes on and wearing them were picking up those shoes and mockingly throwing them back at me.  Wanting to believe the best in people, I lived in a level of denial temporarily, even after I saw and felt those shoes being thrown. Years ago, if a parent witnessed a child behaving disrespectfully they would have disciplined the child. The least of the discipline would involve writing a letter of apology to said adult. Not the case here. All of a sudden there were insinuations  of bullying and “singling out” a specific student. I wanted to shout, “These kids singled themselves out. The behavior called for attention.” When did giving guidelines become an act of bullying? Goodness gracious. But back to the spiritual root. The enemy loves attention and the enemy hates boundaries so the fact that these were two issues being identified was more evidence that it was the enemy behind all of this.

This was tricky. The idea of spiritual warfare was nothing new to me but I sensed that I was dealing with something deeper and darker than I had dealt with in the past. This was no reason to feel fear because those in Christ do have all authority over the enemy but I was challenged. This was ground I had not traversed before. The good news is, when we are challenged we are pushed into greater intimacy with Christ. We become ever so attentive to His heartbeat to gain the needed strategies for the battle ahead. In this nine month period I have seen, heard and experienced some very gross things. War is not pretty. I have not enjoyed it because in war it often seems that nobody wins and everybody gets hurt. I am reminded that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against every power and principality of the air. The weapons and strategies are unusual. The things the Lord would direct me to do may appear ridiculously foolish to any outside observer. I would be challenged as to whether or not I was concerned with how I appeared to any outside observer. Of course! Of course we are concerned with what others think. We can say all day that we only live in the fear of God but at the end of the day every human being with even a small dot of sensitivity will be bothered by the opinions of others in the human race.

Many times in my years of running a dance school I have had to remind myself that I would be okay with some people not liking me. There were probably quite a few people who didn’t like me but at the end of the day, I was not really doing all this for them. This is a call from God and I have no choice but to be obedient come hardship and high water. This settles me. No opinion, hormone, perspective or misunderstanding could alter my call from God so I best be going about the Father’s business.