If it’s true God often uses the body of Christ—by that I mean a community of fellow believers—to tell us what he wants from us, what he wanted from me in my early twenties was leg warmers. I was a new mom when the aerobics craze took America by sweat and storm. A handful of women at my church decided we needed a class and I was just the person to lead it. Why, you ask?
“Didn’t you do drill team, Beth?”
“Well, yes, but that’s not the same thing as—”
“Fabulous! When’s the kickoff?”
“I’m going to have to give this some thought,” I explained, “because I promised God that, whatever I did, I’d do as ministry.”
Unimpressed, they retorted, “So, do it as ministry.”
I turned the idea over and over in my head. “Maybe I could figure a way to use Christian music.”
To their credit, they affirmed the idea, though I could plainly see from their expressions that they pictured us stretching in our tights and leotards to “Rock of Ages.”
“I need to actually learn how to do aerobics.”
Exasperated, they asked, “Well, how long is that gonna take?”
It didn’t take long. I enrolled in an aerobics class not far from my home to get the hang of it and, lo and behold, loved it. This was 1980, when Christian contemporary music was just beginning to get airplay on local Christian radio stations. Songs were coming out weekly by artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Leon Patillo, and groups like the Imperials, Petra, Harvest, Farrell and Farrell, and White Heart that were clearly begging for choreography. The music was there if I had enough imagination.
For better and for worse, imagination happens to be one of my strong suits. With a baby on a blanket beside me, kicking her little legs to the beat, I started choreographing aerobic exercises to Christian contemporary music. We announced a kickoff in the church bulletin and on posters in the halls and women’s restrooms a month later. The church let us use a small room if we’d remove the chairs ourselves and put them back afterward, and by the first night, we were already short on space.
Eight people was one thing. What’s a few lunges between friends? But when the class kept growing, I got antsy. I needed to know what I was doing. I contacted Houston’s renowned First Baptist Church because, according to hearsay, they’d spent a small fortune building, of all scandalous things, what they called a Christian Life Center. It was complete with an indoor track, basketball and racquetball courts, a weight room, a café, a bowling alley, and locker rooms with showers. This was a fancy outfit. A friend of mine had seen the women’s locker room with her own eyes and claimed they even furnished handheld hair dryers.
I’d end up overseeing the program and teaching multiple classes a week—advanced and intermediate—in that “Christian Life Center” for twelve years and cry like there was no tomorrow when the time came to give it up. I’ve never in my ministry life done anything that was a bigger riot. If pure fun qualified as fruit of the Spirit, we were as Spirit-filled as women in tights get. We laughed and carried on, tripped over our own feet, crunched our stomach muscles, worked our thighs until we felt the burn, danced our hearts out, sang loud to every song, and dripped with enough sweat to swim to the parking lot.
Ironically, the most important element of my new part-time job was the part I didn’t want.
“I’d like you to pray about moving your letter here to First Baptist.”
The request came from my new boss moments after he told me I was hired. Moving your letter was something Southern Baptists did when we transferred our membership from one church to another. In our world, it went without saying that moving one’s letter was something that occurred laterally between two Southern Baptist churches. If you were moving from a Baptist church to, say, a Methodist church, you were indeed moving somewhere, but it was down. This I write without a whit of meanness. I can’t even work up any cynicism. This was our culture, and I was contentedly at home in it. I find comfort in the blessed assurance that other denominations surely had their own forms of exclusivity.
“We prayed about it and feel led to just stay in our neighborhood church,” I said to my new boss a week later by phone. I loved our smaller church and had not one inclination to budge, hair dryers or no hair dryers. The other line went silent for about fifteen seconds, then he said, “Well, then, I may not have made the offer as clear as I should have. I apologize for that. It’s part of the offer. I hope that’s not too inconvenient.”
I took this crisis with great haste to the Lord in prayer, to which the Lord responded with equal haste by moving our letter to First Baptist Church.
My first official opportunity to stand in front of a group and speak occurred at First Baptist’s annual women’s retreat when I was still in my early twenties. I’d been asked to do a breakout session on, you guessed it, aerobics. I entitled the fifty-minute message “Making Fitness Count for Christ.” I spoke for the first thirty, then slapped a cassette tape in my boom box and got them on their feet the last twenty. Granted, the choreography had to be carefully crafted to accommodate attire since, in those days, most women came to church retreats at fancy hotels in dresses and navy-blue hosiery.
The gift our young selves give to our old selves, if we’re lucky, is pure absurdity. I have hated the young woman I used to be many times for many reasons, but I can only love a woman who takes herself seriously reading from a Bible while wearing a sweatband.
At the end of the first of a jillion breakout sessions I’d do in my young speaking life, a woman named Marge Caldwell approached me. Among the sages of Houston’s First Baptist Church, warm and charming and funny, she was probably the most popular Christian motivational speaker in our denomination even at almost seventy. Women speakers in the conservative church world were only slightly scarcer than unicorns. Marge had served all over the United States and in multiple foreign countries. She was the keynote speaker at the retreat.
The embodiment of grace and poise, Marge reached out her hand and introduced herself to me.
“Beth,” she said, her blue eyes narrowing, “I think you’re called to do this.”
I assumed she meant teaching aerobics. I felt a bead of sweat run from under my thick hair down my spine.
“No, no, I don’t mean this so much,” she quickly followed up, shooting a glance toward my three-pound hand weights. “I mean, I think you’re called to speak.”
Adapted from All My Knotted-Up Life: A Memoir by Beth Moore. Copyright © 2023. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.