Love swells

Love swells

Love swells 150 150 Jason Ramsey

Love swells.

I often imagine being immersed in dark water, where the only light is the fading sun refracting on the surface. It’s a brilliant light, a kaleidoscope of color like fireworks on the Fourth of July. It keeps my attention as I waft my arms upward and sink to the ocean floor. I consider gasping, a swift inhalation of cloudy water into my lungs. A quick suffocation until the light goes out. I strain to see the Light, a vision of Jesus nodding His head and saying, wryly, “Get up. You can do this.

Ultimately, I don’t inhale the water. And I don’t see Jesus.

I see darkness.

Only recently have I begun to accept myself for who I am.

I am weak. I am heavily influenced by others. I have an adult life full of failures and regret. I carry shame on my back like a sackcloth loaded with stones. I let others’ perception of me dictate my happiness. I long for love and appreciation. I’ve been called selfish and narcissistic, although my deepest desires are exactly the opposite. I have a longstanding history with major depression, although no one seems to believe it. I have visions, like the one above, that pervade my nerves when I disappoint others. Some involve water submersion. Some involve a noose and a wooden deck. Others involve high speeds without restraint. Still others involve sharp objects, but ones that split skin, not ones I’m used to that merely scrape.

I blame no one for any of this. I used to blame it on my upbringing, but I’ve since forgiven those involved and have accepted that my issues stem from myself. They are products of my physiological disposition, not products of environment or child-rearing. Nature, not nurture.

It’s easier to go on this way.

Perhaps this is the ultimate act of selfishness and narcissism.

The vision that I have with ALTARWORK is bred from my longstanding struggle with faith, guilt, shame, and depression. It’s a ministry that I feel led to bring to light. It’s also a ministry that acts as a crutch between my faith and well-being. I have found that I am not alone in this struggle. Hence the content that you find here. I want to share this faith-journey thing with you. I really do.

So here I am. I work full-time – hospital time – three days a week for twelve hours each day, plus overtime, plus an hour drive each way (4:20am-8:20pm for those keeping count). Last week I put in a total of 87 hours in seven days. And I’m married and have five kids under eight (7,4,4,1,1). I spend every spare second on the various aspects of running ALTARWORK: content, social media posts, interaction, communication, finances, marketing, event planning, fire-quenching, writing, designing, developing, improving, fundraising, streamlining, process improving, building friendships, building features, store and product management, inventory, and spinning.

Yes, spinning. My head spins. It’s spinning now. I have so much to do I don’t know where to start.

But I embrace these roles. ALTARWORK is a blessing to me as much as it is to you.

Press on.

Traffic is up. Interaction is up. People are saying nice things. Social media following is up. Ideas are rolling in.

But I’m still alone.

So it goes.

I miss my kids. I’m in the middle of a contentious four-year battle for fair custody for my oldest three. I go half of every week without seeing the two beautiful 18 month-old boys who actually live with me all the time. I’m a pauper. A lonely man gazing longingly at the glass door of life, barricaded by the crippling walls that surround it.

Press on.

The thick haze of half-drunk clout. The inferiority complex that swarms my synapses. The prophecies of self-doubt that have flooded my bloodstream since adolescence. The frail high of effervescent failure. The omnipotent unlove. The unflinching quench for more.

Jesus has saved me. But I don’t know why. Terrorists blow themselves and others up in the name of their convictions, yet I lie in bed at night and struggle to find words to pray. The appropriation and disconnect are somehow sadly entwined. But, my conviction is love.

My sense of self hinges on grace. On salvation. On forgiveness. On repentance. I say I’m still here today because of my kids, but really it’s because of my Father. I have the family dynamic all wrong. When I’m soaring, I realize this. I cannot see this, however, when I’m sinking underwater, looking for a sign in refracted sunlight.

But love does swell. I’m overcome by it. Love for Jesus, love for family, and love for you. Love is suffocating in its own right.  It’s what makes me publish articles during the boys’ morning snack while getting pelted with crackers, write music reviews by talking to Bluetooth while driving, tweet from the toilet (come on, you do it too…), tweak layout designs while my wife is trying on clothes at the mall, respond to emails while waiting for the doctor/lawyer/teacher/postal worker/mechanic/benediction (I kid, I kid).

Selfishness with purpose.

If loving is selfish, that is.

(It is.)

Stay with me. I’d like to think it’ll be worth it someday.


Jason Ramsey

Jason Ramsey is the founder and executive director of ALTARWORK and Amity Coalition. He's married with five kids - including two sets of twins - and walks the tightrope of family, job, and ministry with both eagerness and unease. He gravitates towards mental health advocacy, social and religious equality, hard-life fiction, classical liturgy, modern worship, the Detroit Tigers, and all things Michigan State University. His writing has been featured at Patheos, Venn Magazine, The Mudroom, and The Bees Are Dead, among others. Connect with him below!

All posts by Jason Ramsey
  • Oh man. Me too.

    Me too, my friend.

    I understand.

    I couldn’t have said this better.

    Thank you for what you do,

  • I learned so much about you here. Wow.

    My heart hurts for you. Thank you for Altarwork – it’s a beautiful place.

    Thank you for your support of my writing and message. I feel like I’m surrounded by likeminded artists at Altarwork. (It’s been only recently that I’ve called myself an artist.)

    But, PLEASE don’t neglect your health, your marriage, your kids for this. They are first!!!!

    Stay strong, friend.

    • Oh, you’re an artist, JJ. Undeniably.

      I rationalize that I’m doing this for them (family), too. That someday the ends will support the means. In the meantime, though, I do try to strike a healthy balance. Whether that is really the case, time will tell…

  • Brittany McEachern December 9, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Hi Jason,

    This totally resonates. I’ve been really encouraged by ALTARWORK and what you do through it, and I believe firmly that we are living in a time when “Christianity” is breaking free from religion and turning into what Jesus wanted when He died for us 2000 years ago. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you feel compelled to create this site during this movement. Remember that we are the forerunners. We are lonely, feel like we are shouting at people who can’t hear us, and sometimes seen as out of balance. Much like the disciples were, when Jesus left. Leaders are always lonely. But we are hearing something coming in the distance, because our ears are to the ground, spiritually. We hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, and can feel what He is doing.

    Don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to define ALTARWORK in 1 sentence, regardless of how that sentence may come across. Don’t be afraid to shout about this from the rooftops, either. People look to leaders and visible movements to follow. ALTARWORK is like a homebase for this movement of vulnerability, honesty, and breaking the religious walls down. People are starting to look for that all over the world. It’s just beginning.

    • This is a really interesting perspective, Brittany, and I thank you for sharing it. ALTARWORK certainly isn’t a product or effect of the progressive Christian movement — at least not intentionally, anyway. I have let it morph into what it has become based on readership and interaction. It just so happens that I share in these views, so it all works out quite nicely. I have a hard time wrapping my head around being a frontrunner, or leader, but if that’s what ends up happening, I’ll make the most of it for everyone else.

      ‘Leaders are always lonely’ is a striking statement. And true, I’d say. It’s funny, really, because I’ve thrown out the ‘leader’ and ‘movement’ and ‘revolution’ words in fits of passion for the idea of ALTARWORK, and not until you said this did I ever think anyone saw it the same way. Usually people either laugh or scoff. Or ignore. I’m not one to shout from rooftops, but perhaps that is coming. I’m slowly tearing my own walls down. My insecurities. My timidity with respect to what people will think of me or AW or being offensive or — gasp — being honest.

      This new Christianity really is a movement. And it’s a good one. It’s authentic. If I’m called to the forefront in some unbelievable way with this ministry, then I’ll bear that burden and hoist others on my back for the ride. If not, then I’ll just run a little website that takes forever to publish new content. 🙂

      Either way, I’m thankful for you. I’m thankful for everyone I’ve met along the way.

      It is this that makes love swell in me, a rising tide of tears and joy and manic highs and basement lows. It’s feeling. We all need to feel.

  • My friend, we are kindred spirits on many levels. As a recovering alcoholic with ADD and massive anxiety-depression issues all of which have fed a monster of self-doubt and self-hatred, we could speak at length about some of these very things. I blog about it CONSTANTLY. Some have told me I make a cottage industry out of ‘brooding artist.’

    We’re all in this crazy thing together even though we can often feel ridiculously alone. God has made us to be rubber bands. We stretch, almost to the breaking point, then released, then stretched again until we can fit around others too…or so I’m hoping! Grace and peace…R

    • Robert,

      I love the image of the rubber band and eventually fitting around one another! What a wonderful picture of grace in community!


    • If I keep eating the way I do, I’ll be able to stretch around you, Rob. Seriously, though, we should have that conversation someday.

  • Dear Jason,
    I’m overcome by your courage, brilliance, gut honesty. And I count myself lucky to have found you and your community of Altarwork. I resonate with what you have written…you already know that…how each day feels like I may be spared or consumed…and who knows which or why. Thank you for opening yourself like this. You are beautiful, my friend. (And, what a wonderful scribe you are…that too!)
    With love,

    • LAE — thank you for the kind words. I wasn’t sure whether to hit ‘Publish’ or not, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I’ll do it again…:)

  • Everything else I thought of saying has already been said here except for one thing: Bro, you can write !!!

    • Thanks, man. I try here and there. And you can sing. I really want to help you get the rest of your album rolling…

  • Well done bro., just finished preaching a message called ‘Primary Love’ …would have liked to refer to this, maybe I’ll revisit next week and draw from your thoughts.

    Pray on…