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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In Honor of the Struggling

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about conquering depression, about Christ’s power to overcome such things. I bragged on my God and how He saved me from that crippling pain, how I hadn’t been on medication for three years, how despite life’s troubles depression hadn’t ‘won’ since I’d become a daughter of God.

But what about when it does?

I have been swallowed by the darkness these past two years. I’ve become more acquainted with madness than I’d ever been before I wrote that post. I’ve ached for death, cried out for God to just end it because in my fractured mind I truly could not see a reason not to. Jesus, forgive me for those times, those moments sitting alone in my car sobbing for death, for the days I drove, bleary-eyed, ready and willing to crash into the nearest tree if that meant release from the torment in my darkened mind. I was so lost. There are still days where my blood stops running, my mind fogs over and my heart goes cold, and no amount of sunlight can draw me from my damp cave. There are still days when the madness wins.

So what about those days? Am I not a daughter of God then? Is Jesus not winning then? Have I not believed enough? Am I too weak? Am I cursed? Will I always bow down to the darkness instead of my God?

I am sorry for my misleading thoughts two years ago. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much I don’t understand. Sometimes I talk like I do, and then two years pass, and I feel like a fool.

Me and God, we run circles around these questions. I beg Him to explain to me where my depression stops being physical and becomes spiritual. I beg Him to tell me if I’ve earned this sentence, have I done something to deserve it? I beg Him to show me how to beat it. Am I disappointing you every time I swallow back the pills? Does He look on me with saddened eyes, shaking His head, and say, “If only you believed a little more, child,”?

But the more I ask the more He answers with insight only a Savior burrowed deep inside my soul could know: All I’m really asking is for Him to draw a line in the sand, showing me where my fault begins and ends. Show me where my burden of guilt is, Lord, how much of this is a pile of shame I should haul onto my back?

And He won’t answer that question. He only holds me. He only lets me cry for hours, soak through His tunic, shake His body with my sobs. And He says nothing. The darkness comes and He waits beside me until it passes, does not cast a glance at me as if to say, “Why’d you let it come again?” I shudder at the monsters trying to make friends again and He takes my hand, gets between me and the gory-faced beasts. He comforts me until the fear leaves. Quiets me every time I say, “I’m sorry.”

I don’t know a lot of things. But I’m sure about a few. So here are some truths for anyone else who may need them as much as I do, in honor of World Mental Health Day. In honor of us.

  1. Jesus will not ever leave your side. Start picturing Him beside you when you’re walking and each step feels like a burden. He’s there. Start imagining Him in the passenger seat, driving with you as you sob to that song again. He’s there. Start remembering Him when you’re frozen on the couch, too lost in your thoughts to move a muscle. He’s sitting next to you. No matter how dark your thoughts get, how angry you are, or how many times you’ve pushed Him away. He promised never to leave you or forsake you. He won’t.
  2. It’s okay if you’re on medication for the rest of your life. Don’t let ANYONE tell you you’re less than, or weak, or not trying hard enough because you take medication. I’m still working through my anger on this subject, so personally my suggestion is to just punch them in the face. Alternatively, you can remind yourself that Jesus accepts murderers, rapists, cheaters, heathens, and hypocrites without batting an eye. He definitely accepts you, medications and all.
  3. This is not a punishment. In all honesty, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why some of us have depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder or eating disorders or any other mental health issue and others don’t. I do know it’s a result of sin in the world, just like any other illness. It’s not what God intended. But I really, truly do not believe it’s ever a punishment. The few occasions that Jesus was faced with a “why was this person born blind?” question, He never attributed it to any fault of their own. Jesus said that He came to give life and life to the full. He didn’t come to hand out depression sentences. Amen.
  4. You’re not alone. In addition to the fact that Jesus is always with you, you’re also surrounded by people who understand. Anxiety disorders alone affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. 40 million people. And I can tell you, as someone who participated in mental illness support groups, that regardless of what the illness is, the experiences are all very similar. Someone beside you on the bus knows how you feel. The person checking you out at the register has sobbed themselves to sleep. Your classmate could be your ally, if you let them. Also, if you’re reading this, it means that you now know me and have me to reach out to, too. When you feel horrible because you must be the only person thinking these “insane” thoughts, please know that this is not true. You’re not horrible. You’re human, like the rest of us.
  5. Which brings me to my last point: This is not your fault. We always want to blame someone, don’t we? And when the issue seems to be “all in our head” the only one to blame is ourselves. But no. Banish that belief right now. You didn’t ask for this. Stop looking for a line in the sand, because the answer is none of this is on you. You’re struggling. It’s not always easy to shower. It’s not always easy to keep up. It’s not always easy to want to keep breathing. And the statistics of mental illness prove that this is not uncommon. You didn’t cause this. Just like a cancer patient doesn’t will their tumors to grow, you didn’t forcibly develop your own mental illness. Put down the hatchet. Stop whipping yourself. You can’t blame yourself and try to heal at the same time. You’re just a broken human being living in a broken world. We all are. It’s okay. Admit when it’s too much. We’re all in this club together, and we need to stop treating it like Fight Club and start TALKING about it. Life is hard. Sometimes it’s harder than it should be, harder for some people than it is for others. But it’s no one’s fault. And you don’t have to take the burden of guilt, because it’s already been borne on the cross by Jesus two thousand years ago. Stop trying to pick it back up, and just breathe. That’s all that’s really expected of you. Just keep breathing. Everything else doesn’t matter.

I rambled. But someone needed to read this, and even if they didn’t, I needed to write it. My name is Carla Ramsey, and I have (several) mental illnesses that I battle all the time. It’s not my fault. I’m not alone. I take medication and that’s freakin’ fine. I’m still a child of God, and no one and no thing (not even the big bad depression monsters) can take that away from me. Jesus, my Jesus, will never leave me in the darkness, will never blame me for struggling with it. I’m safe to hurt, safe to cry, safe to struggle.

If you feel alone tonight, hold on to this scripture, which I recently rediscovered. Your pain is precious to God:

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

So, here it is. My amendment to the post from two years ago. It’s not perfect, just like its predecessor. I’m not perfect. And that’s okay, because my Jesus loves me even if all I ever manage to do is breathe.

 

Author’s note: I don’t disagree with any of the things I said in my old post, exactly. I just wanted to pour a little grace on top. 

If anyone is struggling, please do not hesitate to talk to someone. And if there’s no one in your life that you feel safe talking to, the people at these numbers are trained and happy to be a listening ear or a resource for help. God bless.
Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

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.”