Learning Where to Look

Learning Where to Look

Edging up to the crowd around the stage at the neighborhood’s traditional annual fish festival, the oversized Penn State hoodie I was wearing didn’t stand out as much as I thought it would. With people around me of various nationalities from all over the world, our German city’s particular district is comprised of many immigrants and refugees and has felt fairly relaxed with regard to language and culture—and style. 

The hoodie wasn’t an accident: a close friend back home, only 31, with a wife and two young kids, had unexpectedly passed away a few days before from unlikely complications of a “cardiac event.” He loved Jesus, and he also loved Penn State. I was thinking of him, and dug out the old hoodie as a small way to honor his memory from thousands of miles away.

As the loud and deep bass started to pulse through the earth, the lead dancer gave a nod. The women were ready. Smiling, they moved in unison, some of them singing along to the fast-paced Spanish song. Though the moves seemed simple, the crowd was captivated, and so was I. It’s fascinating how music and dance are gifts that can both contain and transcend culture… I’ve marveled that following Jesus can do both, too. With no language prerequisites for anyone, though, watching the dance with my neighborhood felt unifying, mysteriously tapping into basic emotions even as some found themselves tapping along to the beat. 

The women would twist, or bend, or clap, and tears began to well up in my eyes as I thought of the complicated dance it is to live between two faraway places—and as I thought of friends who would soon be gathering for a funeral that I wish I could attend, too. I couldn’t help but also feel a tinge of self-pity that this cross-cultural dance I’m in is one that I just can’t quite seem to figure out. I keep trying, but I don’t know the moves.

I choked back the tears before they fully formed and quickly glanced at the Middle Eastern man standing beside me, hoping he didn’t notice my face contorting with this sudden emotional response. Soon, the dance was over. I clapped with everyone else and wove my way out of the crowd that had continued forming behind me, leaving in order to keep from somehow turning into a puddle of reflection and sorrow.

Like many of you, the Lord has called my family and me to live alongside and to share the good news of salvation in Christ with people who have never heard this extraordinary hope, ones who have not even had the chance yet to encounter Jesus. So often, though, I find myself forgetting (or actively doubting?) that it’s God Himself who has directed my steps. He put me in this strange dance… so doesn’t that mean I can look to Him when I’m feeling especially dizzy and uncertain of my life between two worlds?

Psalm 27 ran through my head almost constantly after my friend died, and it continues to be a comfort. The last verse especially stood out, as a different friend who has also suffered great loss had shared a timely encouragement with me about waiting on the Lord. 

 “Wait for the LORD,

Be strong and take heart

And wait for the LORD.”

Of course, waiting well requires patience. But it also allows space for peace—by telling us to wait for Him, it’s like the Lord is pushing back fear and telling us gently, “I know. And I’ve got this.” So from this place of certainty-eclipsing-uncertainty, we can look to the beautiful love of Christ with confident expectation that He is still at work. And instead of a passive season of waiting, we can eagerly respond in service to Him, considering the action “to wait” also indicates following directions and attending to needs like a server (“waiter”) in a restaurant would.

Standing before that stage and overwhelmed by my emotions, I was beginning to perceive that something within me was off: it turns out that I had been forgetting, or even actively doubting, that the hope of Christ I proclaim to others is tenacious enough for me, too. Christ holds up under the weight of real life. Though this isn’t the first time (and certainly won’t be the last!) that I’ve felt uneasy while in this cross-cultural dance, learning to wait for the Lord in times of confusion and sorrow can provide stability, and reassurance. As I look to Him, He makes more sense of all the different moves. 

Looking to the One who is not only the Choreographer but the very “stronghold of my life” (Ps. 27:1) helps me to trust that while I am processing grief at a distance, I can continue to rock back and forth, twisting and bending between the tugs of my heart on these two continents. I can accept where God has put me in His dance because I’m serving the Lord, waiting on Him. Since the Lord designed these particular steps for me and understands exactly where my troubles lie, I can trust Him to use my clumsy movements to create something captivating for Himself—even on the days I wear a worn-out Penn State hoodie—because by waiting, all eyes are centered back on Him.

What Scripture has comforted you in times of grief and sadness as you have needed to process and pray from faraway?


  1. Elizabeth September 25, 2019

    “Music and dance are gifts that can both contain and transcend culture.” I love that. It’s so true.

    1. Theresa September 27, 2019

      Thanks. I feel like every day I’m finding different ways that culture is more elusive and pervasive than I even imagine! Glad this thought connected with you 🙂

  2. Maria September 26, 2019

    Thank you for this! What truth you communicated – I love your words about forgetting that the hope we proclaim is tenacious enough for us as well. Wow, I forget that sometimes, but how it transforms my lens of looking at waiting – this is an invitation to see Christ as strong enough for me to lean upon. I enjoyed your writing a lot!

    1. Theresa September 27, 2019

      Your encouragement means a lot! I’ve been hesitant about writing lately, but this forced me to gather and conclude the thoughts about waiting on the Lord in a way that reminds me how MY lens needs to be transformed as well. Thanks for your comment, and praise the Lord that He is strong enough for all of us to lean on at once 😉

  3. Monica Finifrock September 26, 2019

    Beautiful! Christ holds up under the weight of real life. I love this, thank you.

    1. Theresa September 27, 2019

      When the truth IS beautiful, all we have to do is remember what’s real… which, of course, is easier said than done 🙂 Thank you for reading.

  4. Lauren October 7, 2019

    Thank you for sharing your heart on this, friend! It brings me to tears not only reading about the emotional struggles endured by you through this process, but also the great growth your faith is experiencing due to these struggles. Growing is often accompanied by discomfort, and you’re doing such a good job of handling and modeling that for so many. Mourning with you over the loss of your friend and praying for continued strength and encouragement for you and Nick. I know you feel the pull from back home – but you’re not alone – we feel the pull from Germany too. We are:)

    1. Theresa October 12, 2019

      Oh, thank you for taking the time to read, and to write. Laughing about the growth being accompanied by discomfort, because WAHHH. I do trust the Lord with it all, though, because I just can’t not! And all the security and stability I’m grasping for, He provides. Love from here. And for sure: WE ARE 😉

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