“The fact of death is unsettling; yet there is no other way to live.” Paul Kalanithi’s quote ironically strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian: to see death as a reality, and life as the preparation for it. But more often than not, we find ourselves distant from death, even disenchanted from it. We get in our cars without thinking twice about driving two-ton vehicles just feet and inches away from other two-ton vehicles, and the proximity we live toward death. For Russ Ramsey, the reminder of this proximity came through a diagnosis:
“We live most of our days avoiding the subject of our mortality. It takes courage to face death, and trying to be brave is the same as being brave…I am the steward of this sacred distance. Since it is something I cannot erase, I shall become its curator instead” (55).
Faced with infection, the early stages of heart failure, and the need of immediate open-heart surgery, Ramsey was thrust into a whirlwind of reflection, fear, wonder, anger, and grace. But Ramsey, from the get-go, saw this affliction not as debilitating, but formative. He committed to himself, poignantly: “I do not wish to waste my pain” (21). In Struck, we witness Ramsey’s journey from “The Onset of Affliction” to “A Way Forward” from his encounter with death. Bookended by a preface from his pastor and friend Scott Sauls and an afterword by his wife Lisa, Russ’s journey comes alive and tells us a story about what it means to come face-to-face with the fact of death. The spiritual overtones for something as anthropologic as heart surgery are stunning.
Ramsey writes with prose that is extremely easy, and beautiful, to read. Russ is a natural storyteller, and to tell his own makes for an invigorating, authentic, and encouraging read. Throughout the book, Ramsey touches on topics such as his bout with depression, his need for lament, friendship and helping those who hurt, and how Jesus heals our hearts. Both Russ Ramsey and I had no idea that his writing this book with such vulnerability and honest reflection would be a profound encouragement to me, but alas, God uses our hurts to minister to those who had no idea they needed healing.
I don’t want to offer you too much of his story because I believe it’s so worth reading for yourself. Whether you are dealing with a diagnosis, a broken relationship, or the simple reality of not wanting to get out of bed and face the world, Struck will not leave you unchanged. It will force you to grapple with who God is, and how He is good, even in the midst of pain; a lifelong lesson we will be learning about, ’til He returns or calls us home.