You are not wrong in your feelings.
Let me welcome you to my mind, this is a nightmare that I had:
The first thing I notice about the prison is the stench.
The second is where that acrid smell is coming from.
The white floor beneath me is smeared with something brown that could be feces, but my brain decides to conclude that it is more likely to be dried blood. Old, dried blood.
From a long time ago.
The bars of the cells before me are all in various levels of rust and decay, some worse off than others. Within, though. That’s where I realize this is a nightmare.
Behind the bars are starved, bony figures that once fought to escape their isolation. Now they are no more than petrified forms with skin like dried leather and faces frozen in sleep. Someone died with their hand stretching out of the cell towards the body of a dead rat. The marks on the floor suggest the desperation they faced to reach the meal that teased them in its decay.
Two are still alive.
She narrowed her dark eyes on the dancing shadows.
Glistening white teeth peered from its blackness in the shape of a sadistic grin that drew skitters across the girl’s skin. To her left, there came laughter which bounced off the walls in a shrill, manically high-pitched mockery of her own voice.
Behind her was the chattering of teeth like the ice cold room was actually affecting the monster that stalked her.
Warm breath pooled over her face from beside her ear, sending off her nerve endings in a fiery rage as a distorted voice whispered, “welcome home.”
Razored claws pricked her shoulder when they pulled the purse off, dropping it to the floor with a thud muffled by the living cloud of shadows. She could feel the weight of the darkness press against her while she choked on the stale smell of copper and pen ink. It pushed on her chest, stretching across it and pulling the skin tight at the edges so she could scarcely think through the agony. Her lungs tried to stop breathing, too weak to push against the weight at a steady pace.
I shared an incredible testimony once, and I was told it was someone’s favorite piece of writing they’d heard from me. I decided to write it as a story, just for her:
The day had been warm, with a gentle wind that brought in grey clouds from all directions over time. Their group gathered around a fire pit between two camping trailers. The ages ranged from small children, to middle age, up to elders. Everyone chatted and laughed together in separate conversations, yet they remained interconnected as one whole if you looked close enough.
The rain had thought to chase them away, but they simply moved under shelter and built their fire up again inside an old wood burning stove. That was when the magic started.
All of them were gathered in a semi circle off to the left of the fire, at least a dozen in all. They were all either standing or seated in chairs. At the end of the arc that was closest to the open flame was the worship team, and at the other end of the arc seated behind those flames, sat the baby of the group. A young girl, just over twenty and only saved for two years at most.
The crowd began singing together, and she joined in when she knew the words. Her heart was high up at the base of her throat, though, and she hung her head down to quietly pray.
All around them, the atmosphere changed.
Outside in the world, the rain poured down in unforgiving torrents as the sky continued to darken. But within that place, that simple shelter with its warm glowing fire, it was a whole other world.
The air grew thick, like mist. It was something tangible, you could cut it with a knife. It almost appeared the prayer and song were pouring this strange atmosphere from the mouths of the crowd.
There at the end of the arc, the baby girl felt tears rising into her eyes though she did not understand why such a thing could be happening. Her chin was wobbling, she feared she would begin to sob.
Something slipped inside her mind, because when she opened her eyes next, she was standing. And she was looking down at herself with her head bowed in the chair.
The seated girl was entirely naked, her skin battered and torn. All the wounds she’d once cut into her own skin had re-opened. The messy layers of crisscrossing scars on her thigh brought so much blood, it flowed like a river down to the cement floor. Some wounds were not of her own hand, but physical manifestations of the heartaches she’d crawled through. Gouges of skin plucked from her chest, her arms, even her face. Blackened bruises painted her pale skin where the blood did not touch it. She was ugly. She was torment itself. She was no longer a person.
Yet she sat there, worshipping still with her fellowship. She was singing along and belting the lyrics like the words were punches.
And then He came to stand before her. Bronzed and glowing and beautiful. Her saviour. Her life.
He smiled down at her and the simple upwards tilt of his lips was so gentle that it almost hurt to look at after everything the girl and her standing ethereal counterpart had been through.
Her savior bent down, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and guiding her to stand with him. He led her to a small space in the widest part of the arc before the group. All their heads were bowed, and they were worshipping, and she felt her heart squeezing inside her chest.
He began to lead her in a slow dance.
Her nerves rose higher and she tensed all her muscles; she didn’t know how to dance. She didn’t want to ruin this moment with her clumsiness.
He didn’t seem to notice when she stepped on his foot or mechanically followed his leading movements. Slowly, ever so gentle, she began to calm down as she realized deep in her heart: this is Jesus himself and he is leading her. She would be alright.
The instant she shifted to let herself trust in the lead of his dance, something began to change in her. No more awkward steps, nor mechanical movements. She moved like fluid alongside him.
And one by one, each red weeping wound sealed. As they did, he began to look happier and even somewhat excited.
And when all the marks of abuse and battle were gone, he was grinning like a young boy who’d just won a prize.
Her skin was glowing from beneath it.
He whispered, “there she is.”
As if he had found her just then at that moment when she was made whole. As if he had to search through the abuse and heal the evidence of it in order to see her.
The ethereal standing self melted down into the one standing inside his arms. And she found herself wondering, why go through such efforts to find me when there are probably much easier people to see… probably prettier as well… why would you do it? She didn’t say them, though. She couldn’t trust her voice would not shake.
He knew these thoughts, and he answered with his own questions: “why would I die for you, and yet not want to find you? Why would I suffer for you, if you would still suffer?”
She couldn’t answer. Silence brought his gentle, heart wrenching smile back.
“I wanted you,” he told her. “To see you, and to take all that pain. It’s not yours. It’s not meant for your skin. You were meant to glow.”
And all too fast, she was sitting once more, opening her eyes to the singing crowd and weeping.
She would not share that experience for many long months
We make jokes about how we have no energy to do simple things.
As if it’s funny that we can’t see our friends because we can’t even drag ourselves from between stale sheets.