The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > What a friend we have in Jesus

What a friend we have in Jesus


Late in summer 2023, I am invited to dance at my parents’ church. I choreograph a solo, and their sermon series is about prayer. As I think about and search for what song to use, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” stands out with its line, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” It is a sweet process of playing with movements, shapes, and images to communicate not only the freedom and safety we experience as we bring our prayers to God, but also Jesus’ presence with us. I finish and practice the dance at the YMCA near my parents’ house and look forward to sharing it with the congregation. Although I have been with GDT for four years, this is actually the first time I have danced in a church service, so it feels like a full circle moment for me to have that first in my hometown. The Sunday comes, the church is touched by the dance, and I am grateful for the opportunity to co-create with my friend Jesus and share beauty with others.

A month later, my mom is having some strange bodily symptoms and has a visit to the hospital to get checked out. My parents move forward with investigating if it is heart-related. In the meantime, Glorify Dance Theatre is back in the groove of rehearsing and getting ready for our Dance & Dialogue, with the theme of Creating with Our Creator, and Melody invites me to share my solo and talk about the piece with the audience. The week before the show, I practice my dance while the swirling turmoil of worry and emotions rage in my mind and heart. At the end of a specific run, I think of my mom and about bowing at Jesus’ feet for answers and guidance, meanwhile embodying this very posture of prayer. Melody kindly consoles me as I weep. I am blessed by the safety of this community, which models Jesus’ shielding friendship. In Him and in godly fellowship, we are safe to process life, even through dancing as in the family of GDT. Dance & Dialogue goes smoothly, and the audience points out new observations I hadn’t considered before, such as the back-and-forth patterns throughout the piece.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

The two weeks between D&D and our Fall MainStage Mixed Rep show hold much endurance building, as the six of us dancers in the company gear up for the triple-bill of challenging ballets. Those weeks also hold emotional endurance requirements as my father catches COVID, and they do everything they can to prevent my mom from catching it, hoping to make it up to Pennsylvania for the performance weekend. The day before they plan to drive up, my dad finally tests negative. The Mixed Rep show is a hit, and I felt strong in mind and body. Many audience members also note that I look the strongest they have seen me. I feel satisfaction over reaching a new peak in my recent dancing, and want to keep that momentum going, stewarding my body and dancing well. It is a mountaintop weekend, so why had I been worried circumstances were going to prevent my parents from being there? We often carry so much more than God wants us to carry. Ultimately, His gentle and lowly friendship calls us to allow Him to carry the load of our burdens, even the ones no one else knows about (Matthew 11:29-30).

What a friend we have in JesusO what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Less than a week passes, and life gets turned upside down as my mom receives a brain cancer diagnosis. The following week I head home for her biopsy and Thanksgiving, which turns into another week, then Christmas, then New Years… those weeks are a blur in the night, but my mom’s faith in Jesus by her side is as clear as day. The peace He bestows on her is truly beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7). Very few days in that period do I dance or go to the gym, but I remember dancing my “What a Friend…” solo at the same YMCA, but within such different circumstances. As I question and cry out to Jesus, He doesn’t shy away, but stays (Proverbs 17:17).

What a Friend We Have in JesusHave we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.

February 2, 2024, Mom passes from this earth into Jesus’ arms. Funeral arrangements are made and I can think of nothing I would want to do more than dance at her celebration of life. I can remember my little nephew watching me practice the dance before the service as other preparations are made. God gives me the grace and strength to perform the solo on the very stage I had first performed it, 5 months prior. Jesus weaves together more full-circle moments I could never have imagined on my own, nor would have wanted to (Philippians 1:6). 

What a Friend We Have in JesusCan we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Later that month I return to PA and am graciously welcomed back to my work and church communities. Returning to dancing regularly feels like a homecoming. I often think of Mom when we perform the end of class ritual, called révérence, in which we bow to thank the teacher, classmates, God, and the audience. Performing for the remainder of GDT’s season has a more bittersweet taste, as Mom’s heavenly 3rd row middle seat doesn’t feel the same from my side. But I find contentment in knowing she is still delighting in my dancing. A good friend delights in you no matter what you’ve been through, so how much more does Jesus see us with compassion, since he holds our lives in His hands (Zephaniah 3:17).

What a friend He is and forever will be.

Jesus has been my faithful friend through all of it.  Whether my prayers to Him were out of adoration, longing, pain, comfort, or numbness, He received each one. As I wrote about in my post about our preschool show, Okia, God is the unshakable rock on which we can depend and rest our lives on. We don’t need to know all the answers before we come to Him. We don’t need to dry up all our tears and runny nose before we call out to Him. We don’t need to be ashamed to be able to experience and express joy to Him after loss. As any good friend would do, just being with us may be the very gift our empty palms open us up to receive. He has infinite time. Talk to Him. Cry to Him. Shout to Him. Weep to Him. Sit with Him. Look for Him. 

If I’m honest, I feel like a hypocrite because even as I encourage you to know Jesus as your best friend, my heart aches to feel His care. Part of me wants to throw my hands up on this life. I’ve questioned if this life is worth living, if it is so much better to be with Christ in glory. But in His omnipresence, He has chosen to be here with us…with me, even while He reigns in the heavens. And if He is here with and in me by His Spirit, that is all the worth I need to press on, even when I feel shrouded by darkness. I guess that is where faith comes in. Though we can’t see Him, we can know Him. 

May my mind’s knowledge of You seep more and more into my heart, Lord.

I want to know you as my truest friend. 

I yearn for the ways You want to satisfy my soul.


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