We Dance

Inspired, in part, by Stefanie Gretzinger’s We Dance.
Sometimes I picture myself dancing with Jesus. The other day, during a church service, I nervously wondered if I was wrong to do so. Was it weird, that I pictured dancing with the Savior of the world? Then, in that same sermon I sat in, my preacher specifically said that Jesus wants us to be so close to Him it’s like we’re dancing. And he said it casually, not knowing that through him Jesus was speaking to me. He said, He wants us to be so in step with His ways that we move along with Him in a dance. And I smiled. Because Jesus loves dancing with me so much that He sent words down just to reassure me. So, I decided to write down how it feels to dance with Him. Of course, Jesus sent all these words, too.

I step up to Him, a ball in my throat. The toes of my shoes hit His and I mutter an apology, because we haven’t even started and I’m forgetting the moves. He shakes His head, that same serene smile on His face, and says, “Just follow me.” There’s a weight on my chest that my heart seems to be trying to pound away. He takes my left hand in His, pulls my right hand onto His shoulder, and holds me close. He smells like earth. Like waterfalls. Like air so fresh it hurts your lungs. It instantly stills my heart, calms my breathing, sets my mind in a place that feels like swaying on a hammock under a sea of stars. Suddenly, we’re moving, and I don’t know how but my feet know exactly where to go and my body doesn’t hesitate as it glides along with Him across the room. My thoughts fall away as the wind slides around our spinning forms, and this is life, this is life, this is being alive.

He’s teaching me the motions as we go, never faltering when I am a moment too slow, picking up the pieces of my mistakes without a second thought. I don’t feel ashamed when my mind stumbles and my feet follow suit. In that instant, He lifts me up, places my feet on His and we continue to swing. My slipups do not faze Him; He’s too perfect for them to affect His dance. As the song tiptoes upwards, the beat rising, the power resonating, a laugh tumbles out of me, so sudden it surprises me. He looks at me, grinning, as though my laughter we more melodious than the music to which we sway. And laughs. And that laugh is like a baby’s, like the sound of hope and wonder and enchantment and any good, new, fresh floating feeling I’ve ever had in my life. In His laugh I see my happiest memories sweep through my mind, and my body shakes with more laughter, with pure delight. I’ve forgotten that we’re even dancing. And this is joy, this is joy, this is being alive.

The longer we dance, the easier it is to predict His movements, to know where we’re headed and when. It becomes mindless, this dance, this togetherness, and I wonder how it is possible that I should become one with the One. I think, I am not a dancer. I have not put in the practice, the dedication, to deserve this intricate knowing of motions and melodies. I have not earned the right to be His partner. And, as though reading my thoughts, He pulls back to look at me and mutters, “No, no.” In a flash, I am blinded. The room falls away, the music fades, I lose track of my feet.

I see myself, four years old, playing in the grass of my old backyard. I am lizard-hunting, and as I watch my fat, happy fingers fishing for reptiles, a wave of powerful love slams into my gut. A love I’ve never known, a love incomparable, indescribable, and that love is for four-year-old me, who knows nothing and deserves nothing. I’m so ignorant of it, this love that could tear down cities with its ferocity. But something echoes within me and I know, it’s always been there; this adventuresome girl is followed around by a love bigger than the universe itself.

The memory is traded out and I’m a puddle of pain on the floor; I’ve been hurt, used, violated, at only twelve years old. I can still feel the love billowing inside of me, but atop it is a vicious anger, a roaring lion eager to defend and avenge. Twelve-year-old me is loved with a protective fire, ready to burn all who harm her. I am in awe. Nothing can match this love; a mama bear seems docile in the face of it. It is a five-car pile-up of screeching anger, it is tornadoes ripping up fields, it is an earth-shaker that would destroy everything for little twelve-year-old me to never have been hurt.

A new scene emerges: I’m older now, a wizened veteran, familiar with wounds of all kinds. But still the pain roils beneath the surface, and in this moment its burst forth; I sit alone in my car, as though the windows are a wall shielding me from the outside world. And the sobbing seems like it will never end. But surrounding that young woman, that little girl, I see ethereal arms. They hold me tenderly, but with a steadiness that promises to never let go. And I am struck by a whirlwind, a torrent of complete adoration, of heartbroken torment. And I know: the love is sobbing with me, sharing in the sorrow. I am so universally, eternally not alone. Where I ache, it aches. Where I tremble, it trembles. It refuses to let me bear the wounds alone. That love nearly brings me to my knees. It is a rising flood, covering everything. It is a powerful hurricane, unstoppable, ripping through all my fortresses, all the lies, the shadows where I hide, and the fears that keep me crawling away. It is a love that will not fail. It refuses to give up until its staring me in the face, wiping my tears away, calling me home into its embrace.

My sight slowly returns, and we haven’t missed a beat. My face is swimming with tears. Weighed down with that hurricane love, I hesitate to meet His eyes. I know what I will see there. In them is certainty, is eternity, is a roaring lion that will never stop His pursuit of me. I am seen. And I am known. And this is love, this is love, this is being alive.

We dance.

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Hi, My Name is Carla and I’m A Flesh-aholic

I’m no stranger to the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Not because of any struggle of my own, but because of the struggles of some of those whom I love. I went to meetings somewhat frequently as a teenager, to the point where I became comfortable enough to speak up and join the conversation. I used to say, “Hi, I’m Carla, and I’m not an alcoholic.” This always earned a soft tide of laughter.

addictionFor those of us who have never struggled with an addiction to something like drugs, alcohol or sex, it’s really easy to feel—consciously or subconsciously—like we’re a lot better than those who do. For those college students reading this, you look around at your fellow high school graduates and think, “Man, I may not be passing all my classes but at least I’m not passed out drunk every night like Suzy Q.” Any of the moms and dads reading this, you might find that you give yourself a little pat on the back when you find out that Richard has a drinking problem, or Zoe got addicted to the pain meds after her surgery, because at least you and your family don’t struggle with those things. I mean, let’s be honest, we think about alcoholism, drug and sex addiction as the BIG no-no’s, the taboo-iest, the dark alley that WE’D never go down. I’ve had those same thoughts myself, plenty of times. When I first became a Christian and the Holy Spirit would tap me gently on the shoulder to remind me of the guilt I felt over my own sins, I would always tell Him, “No, Spirit, it’s fine. I’m not out drinking every night, I don’t have sex with random guys…we’re good.” I wrote off my own struggles by looking back on those AA meetings and thinking, “At least I’m not that bad.”

Which brings me to my real point in this post. I may not be an alcoholic, but that response—that looking at another person as if I know their very soul and thinking, “Well, at least I’m better than they are,”—proves that I am an addict. I’m a flesh-aholic. Because only someone addicted to pacifying their fleshly desire to feel good about themselves, to feel better than others, would think such things. But we’re all flesh-aholics, aren’t we? fleshweakThe Bible says that our flesh and the Holy Spirit are at odds with one another, because they desire opposite things. Because of this, “you do not do what you want,” (Galatians 5:17). It also says that we are SLAVES to sin, which is the gratification of the flesh. Slavery sounds a lot like addiction, yeah? If you’re still not convinced you’re a flesh-aholic, consider the following verse from Galatians 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar.” Now, most everyone I know has struggled with envy, anger, hatred, selfish ambition, and idolatry (Yeah, dudes, football counts—anything you place above God counts. I’m pretty sure I idolize my cat, actually…I should pray on that), so even if you somehow have managed to stay away from the sexual immorality aspect of the list, you’re still a flesh-aholic.  (The first step, in case you didn’t know, is admitting you’re a flesh-aholic. Some of us may simply need to start there.)

But I’m not saying these things to bring any of us down. Actually, my point flows back to those Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I used to go to. If you don’t know what the program is like, the gist of it is addicts coming together for hour long meetings where they share their struggles, share their lives, and encourage each other to keep fighting the good fight of sobriety. Meetings can be found around town morning, noon, and night, so depending on the difficulty of your day you could go to three or go to one. Most addicts truly dedicated to recovery go at least three times a week, but I’m pretty sure that once a day is the goal for most. The purpose of the meetings is to reset your mind, remind yourself of your goal of continued sobriety, but most importantly to remember that you are not on the journey alone.

But meetings are not where the program ends. Listening to the same people talk about their personal lives and struggles nearly every day creates some pretty significant bonds, and from that most addicts find a community, a family. They find lasting relationships that go beyond the walls of the meeting house and flood into lunches, coffee dates, desperate phone calls for encouragement…someone to sit beside when the shadows roll over and running back to the addiction feels like the best option. You get a sponsor, which is a glorified (and much more dedicated) accountability partner, who is wise in their experience battling the addiction and graciously devotes their time to helping you through the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps are all about facing the obstacles that can stand in the way of sobriety in a practical, introspective way—and, incidentally, they require the help of a Higher Power to get you through each of them. The goal is really to learn how to live your life better, with honesty and truth and freedom. Freedom from the addiction and all the tiny ways it tricked you into slavery.

meetingtogetherSo I was doing the dishes this morning, thinking about all of the different Christian study groups I have the opportunity to be a part of. I’ve just joined one on Mondays, my husband and I are hoping to begin attending one on Tuesday nights, and I have the opportunity to go to another on Thursdays. I was considering how much time this would take up, the many hours I would lose snuggling my husband while dutifully bingeing Parks and Rec, when I considered something. My mom and stepdad go together to AA meetings several nights a week, and it’s not something they consider optional. I’m sure many times they would rather be vegging in front of the TV, but they’ve learned through painful mistakes that the sacrifice is quite worth it. And this made me stop for a moment and think: how much stronger would my faith and my fellowship with other Christians be if we treated our Christianity like an Alcoholics Anonymous community? And how much better at fighting my flesh addiction would I be?

The first century Christians, I think, knew that we are all flesh-aholics. In Acts 2 we’re told that “all believers were together and held all things in common (v. 44).” In fact, “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people (v. 46).” They met together daily? And had all things in common? They went to each other’s homes and ate together? That sounds a lot like a community of addicts who know that they need constant encouragement, honesty, and togetherness to be able to fight against their addiction.

I’m picturing the church. It’s not a building where people come once a week to hear one person give a speech, ignore one another, and then leave and pretend it never happened (that’s called a college lecture, people). It’s individuals who know each other intimately, who are humbled by their mistakes and share everything with one another, including their struggles. It’s people who know that if they don’t sacrifice things like personal free time or personal privacy, that their addictions will win and they will lose it all—people who have the proper perspective of what is most important, because they remember their life before this change, they remember who they were and they never want to be that person again. It’s people who, when their friend starts to forget who they once were and begins giving into it again, are unafraid to step in and remind them; unselfish enough to sit beside them and fight the battle together. People that will give a huge piece of their life to a stranger who needs their help, who will choose to mentor that person through healing, understanding, and growth that only comes from God. It’s individuals who meet together often, even daily, to share life together and build each other up because they know what it looks like when they try to do it alone. And in this Godly community, the fight for sobriety somehow gets easier.

It’s a punch to the gut when you realize that the people you used to look at and say, “At least I’m not that bad,” have a more Christ-like community than your own Christian church does.

So here, allow me to start the meeting: “Hi, I’m Carla, and I’m a flesh-aholic.”

Sitting in Sorrow

Author’s Note: Dedicated to my dear friend, James. Jesus is right beside you in this, my brother. I love you.

I love the band Flyleaf. They are unafraid to sing about raw pain in the light of their Christianity. They don’t pretend that sorrow doesn’t exist as a Christian, but instead describe Christ speaking into our grief.

I was listening to one such song, aptly titled ‘Sorrow’, when the following lyrics struck me deeply:

Sitting closer than my pain
He knew each tear before it came

Right now I am going through a period of time where I frequently find myself sobbing in my car at random intervals. I am unashamed to say it: I am suffering from massive mood swings. And because of this many of my days are knit with deep, intense sorrow; the battle against depression is being waged yet again. So when I heard these lyrics they echoed in my head, the question reverberating through me for days afterward, “How?” How could Jesus be closer than pain that felt etched into my very being?

So that Sunday, I decided to ask Him. Desperate and aching with helplessness for my life, the lives of my loved ones, the world at large—heavy with the darkness surrounding me—I reached out. The following is the prayer that I wrote to Christ in that moment, unedited in its rawness:

Jesus,

Do you really sit closer than my pain? You know what it looks like. You can describe it so much better than I can. It’s so large and monstrous. It looms over me, breathing down my neck and soaking me in fear and panic and uncertainty and anger and hatred and self-loathing and depression and lethargy and hopelessness and I can’t see passed the fog it surrounds me in. It’s black smoke, so thick it’s almost solid. Almost like a pitch black box that I have no way of getting out of. If it’s all around me, how can you be closer than it? I don’t understand… Are you in the pain, in the smoking darkness? Are you in me?

Where are you, Jesus? Make it clear to me.

I don’t want to question your presence. Reveal yourself to me. Where are you in the darkness? Please. I need to know I’m not alone here in this haunted place. Are you behind me, watching my back while I grope around helplessly? Are you a light that I just can’t see? Reveal yourself to me, Lord.

Are you closer than my pain? Get between it and me. I want to feel it and know it’s there. I don’t want to numb it; I just don’t want it to take me down like it has been. I’m pinned to the floor, heavy black smoke upon me, choking me. Get between us, Christ.

Help me. Help me. Help me.

I put my notebook down. I listened to the sermon, took fervent notes, the black smoke still on my back. Though I sat in a chair surrounded by Christians, what I pictured was a haunted house. Colorless. Whispering voices, staring eyes, hungry growls coming from every direction. No windows, no doors. Just a huge, putrid, decrepit house that I was hopelessly lost in. And no matter how quickly I ran, the heavy, daunting black smoke followed me, always at my heels. And in that moment it had caught me and I was pinned to the floor, tasting ragged carpet and being taunted at every angle by the voices, the eyes, the growls. The black smoke covered me until it seemed that maybe it was me—me and my pain, merging so that I would never be rid of it again. How could Christ be closer than a pain that felt like it was all around me and inside me?

After the sermon we took prayer requests from our small number of members. As we bowed our heads in prayer I folded my hands together, because I sat alone. But in that moment I felt a hand over my own, holding it as we began to pray. In my mind I lifted my head and saw Christ sitting to my right, smiling with tender eyes. I heard Him whisper, “I’m here. Silent tears slid down my cheeks as my brothers and sisters prayed on around me, unaware of my communion with Christ. In my head I stared at Him, eyes wide, and answered quietly, “You’re here?” I felt then the closest hug I had ever felt, the arms of my Savior surrounding me and pulling me into Him. I melted, sobbing, “You’re here.”

And suddenly I was in the haunted house again. It looked the same. The whispers and eyes and growls were all present, and the black smoke still sat over me, my body pressed to the floor with no power to move. But when I turned my head I saw, lying on the floor beside me, my God. My Savior. My Christ. He laid pressed low just as I was, under the weight of the black smoke just as I was, holding my hand in His own. At the sight of Him I sobbed, tears pouring over me, shaking with emotion. He whispered in the face of my pain, “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here, I’m right here.

Jesus squeezed my hand, the two of us together in my pain. I’m always here.

In my chair at church, frantically writing the experience in my notebook, I penned, “He’s already here. He’s in the pain with me. I’m not alone, I’m not alone, I’m not alone.”

The black smoke of my pain pressed down on me, fearing the power of my God. I cried, “Please don’t leave me!”

Christ answered, holding my hand tighter, silencing my fear, I never will.

All praise be to the God of Light. All praise be to Jesus Christ, who took the burden of our sin so that we would never be alone in our sorrow again.

He sits closer than our pain. He shares it.