If I were to ask you, “What gives you life?” what would come to mind? For me, I have always found sharing what brings me joy to be life-giving. Ever since I began pursuing one of my greatest joys, dance, I was fascinated by the way movement shares a story and conveys a message. Yet, I could not have predicted how my pursuit of dance would take shape in the future. As you sit there reading this, I’m sure we have unexpected life changes in common, and with that said, here’s how mine took a different turn.
In 2015 I moved to Florence, Italy to use my background in dance, art, and photography to connect with others and share about my faith in God. Italy was never a place I would have expected to live, but I loved it. Even more than the beauty of that country, I loved the deep connections that formed with others around me. Whether it was my roommates and I opening up our tiny apartment to large groups of college students until 1 o’clock in the morning, speaking about the day’s events with my neighbor and his children, or creating new choreography to surpass language barriers through dance, it was a rich season filled with incredible people.
But only a few months after moving there, my energy seemed to be running low. My eyes started to grow dark while biking home. I would shake it off, thinking maybe I needed a better night’s sleep or should have had a little more to eat that day. I thought it was something I would get over and thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Then the worst came — chronic appendicitis. It’s a condition that seems rather simple to diagnose, yet I found myself going to doctor after doctor and feeling like I was never going to find an answer. Too sick to fly back to America, in too much pain to walk out of my apartment, and praying for relief, I was tired of trying to communicate to the doctors in English or Italian! Nonetheless, I did finally have surgery and have since been told it was a miracle I even made it to the operating table. Not knowing what was ahead, I thought the worst part was over and recovery would be just fine. But things only got worse when an infection put me back in the hospital more sick than before. I was far from my home, poorly treated by medical professionals to say the least, and left with scarring memories. Struggling to even stand up on my own, I started to question, was this my life now? Would I ever share dance with another person? Or explore a new place? Yet I knew I wasn’t on my own in the midst of that hospital. Even though my strength was completely depleted, I knew I still had a long way to go towards any kind of recovery and I wouldn’t get there on my own.
Within twenty-four hours I was back in America with very few answers. The immobilizing pain followed me home, as did the traumatic flashbacks and culture shock. Even struggling to breathe became a daily ritual. Test after test, appointment after appointment, there were no answers to be found, and no one to take on my case. I started to wonder if the pain was all in my head and maybe there was a reason no answers were being found. I felt like I had better learn to accept my situation or find another way to health and recovery. So with what little strength I had left, and through the strength from my faith, family, and friends, I began to speak up for myself to regain my life.
It’s been two years since my second surgery, and even though the emotional, traumatic, and physical effects still linger, I’ve learned to listen to and care for this vessel of mine. To be wise about whose advice I take, even from a doctor. And while it can be challenging to explain my lifestyle changes to others like how I eat or manage my energy, these new habits and rhythms allow me to share some of my greatest joys in a new way.
When your dream is on hold, can you learn to let it take a new shape? I do not think I will be dancing a full length ballet in my future, but I can train up others who have a desire to dance. Someone I've been able to confide in during these challenging years once asked me, “What if plan B was actually supposed to be plan A?” What if, as indescribably hard as my season of pain was and yours may be now, we respect our limitations and explore our abilities that often went unnoticed before the struggle?
In the field of dance there can be a combination or step that is very challenging at first. These moves can take time, practice, and a lot of patience. As a former student myself, I know this can be a frustrating experience. When you don’t see a clear outcome or progress we can feel tempted to give up. Yet it’s often in these times that we grow the most. When I see a student press into the struggle and not give up I feel a deeper sense of compassion. And when the step or combination turns out differently than it originally looked, we can choose to learn from the change and process. Do I want to relive the past few years of navigating my health? Certainly not. Am I grateful for a new outlook on life, even in the simple things like helping a student accomplish a combination? Definitely.
Sharing this part of my life is far from easy for me, but I know that there are others out there who are looking for an ounce of encouragement. So I share my story with you in full vulnerability, but I also want to share my strength with you as well. My story may resonate with you in some way, but this life-giving strength comes from my faith in God. The truth is I struggled, just as you’ve struggled, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jesus. He gave his life as the ultimate sacrifice because he loves us so deeply. And when you have a relationship with Jesus and you can anchor your faith in God, you really do have a new strength and life to share with others.
So I leave you again with this; what gives you life? Who gives you life? What inspires you that could also inspire others? In your own capacity, open up and share it! It may just give you some life in return as well.
Reader Note: In hearing about Madeline’s passion for dance, it only seems appropriate to share the video below from her season in Italy, around the time that her health began to decline. Madeline is the dancer in the middle for most of the piece. We hope this energizes your hope, no matter what your dreams look like or how they’re changing shape over time.
We're proud and honored to have the opportunity to share this short film created by our friends at Practical. They specialize in sharing stories through concept, commercial, and narrative films that speak to the heart of an issue. They’re an intentional, ambitious company, with a streak of generosity to allow us to share their work in this way. Shoutout to our new friends!
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