I’ve always found myself in the dance of caretaking, waiting for my partner to take the lead, whether my mom, my dad, or a friend. When I found myself disappointed or let down, I’d lead instead. It was exhausting, but necessary to get my needs met. Occasionally I would have moments when I could float beside them, hand in hand. Sometimes they stepped on my foot or lost their sense of rhythm, and I would remind them of what this looked like, what caretaking felt like.

I mastered this dance young and was taken advantage of, first in my home, then in school, in relationships and friendships.

Maybe it was because of how effortless I made it seem. That melody hummed in the deepest parts of my heart. No one asked how much it cost to have it memorized. No one asked how often I practiced. No one even bothered to take off the shoes I wore, to see calloused feet and bruised toes. I quickly noticed that because of this skill I had value, so I’d stay up late, practicing in the dark. I’d find the melody in my head and tap my foot along to it.

As my tapping echoed, someone would call me aside. Never to be curious about me, but about what I could offer them.

You can’t engage in this dance without some sort of delight in the other person. Maybe it’s a glimpse of their beauty or their innate sense of rhythm. There is something keeping you in that movement and moment.

With my parents, my desire was to be loved and delighted in. To have my mom do my hair, or to be able to run through her closet and feel, see, and try on all of her beautiful clothes. It was the desire to sneak into her room late at night and ask her big questions. It was the desire to see her in the front row during my assembly, camera in hand, taking my picture. But my mom didn’t know how to do hair. She didn’t own or wear beautiful clothes. She didn’t have the answers. She didn’t sit in the front row. Instead, I was teaching myself how to French braid my American Girl doll’s hair. I was trying on clothes and twirling in front of my mirror. Late at night I was looking up at the ceiling and asking God the big questions. I was keeping my head down at recitals and assemblies, unwilling to look up, knowing my mom wasn’t taking up space.

With my father, it was the desire to see his quivering smile and red-rimmed eyes as I made my way down the stairs before a school dance. It was the desire to be tossed into the air and then caught, to hear him tell me I was beautiful. It was the desire always to feel the safety of being under his care and his wings. But he didn’t look at me as I made my way down the stairs without looking at his beer bottle first, tilting it to the side to see how empty it was. He tossed me, but there was always a hesitation in knowing if he would catch me too. He didn’t tell me I was beautiful. His wings were too fragile to lift up and tuck me beneath. Instead, I was avoiding mirrors. I wasn’t jumping or taking risks. I was buying the lie that I’m not beautiful. I was the safety, the one whose wings everyone hid beneath.

For being so small and young, my wingspan was wide. I had found a way to expand myself.

I didn’t know my wings weren’t for the ones I found beneath it; they were actually for my glory and purpose, expansion and beauty. And now, when I spread my wings, I feel a swift breeze loosen each tired and brittle feather. I feel the warm sun reminding me of a sacred melody and holy rhythm.

A year ago I had a vision of little me dancing with God. I saw His hand holding mine, His smile radiating as His laughter filled the space we held. As He twirled me around, I got older and older until I saw the me I am today.

I heard Him say He was always delighted in me.

As I reflect on this dance I’ve led others in, God steps in and takes the lead, telling me I don’t have to engage in that dance with anyone who is not capable of taking the lead and taking care of me.

And as He takes my hands in His, our audience, a heavenly host, plays a song just for us. I know this is all I’ll ever need.

This Red Tent woman has requested to remain anonymous. We applaud her courage to risk sharing this part of her story with our community, it is our privilege to honor and protect her identity.