Ring of Fire
"I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down down down
and the flames went higher
And it burned burned burned
The ring of fire, the ring of fire"
~ June Carter (Cash)
Of all the chapters in my life, to me, this one is the saddest. It is the one I wish I didn’t have to write, that story in my life that I wish could forever go untold. It is the chapter of shame and heartache and a time in my life where I not only didn’t know who God was and what He wanted from me, but also a time where I was so lost on who I was and what I wanted in my life that the only direction my life was moving, was down.
You would never know it by the lyrics and the haunting way Johnny Cash sings the song, but Ring of Fire is actually a love song. June Carter Cash wrote it when she was trying desperately not to be in love with Johnny but was failing miserably. For those of you who do not know Johnny’s story, it was a story told with many sad chapters of its own- several titled by drug abuse, family dysfunction, and drama. But like all good stories where God is a main character, it is also a story of redemption.
Mine is no different, for from that chapter in my life – the one where I quite nearly lost who I was to a world who tried to convince me that I am less than I am…. That chapter, that verse…. That changed me.
I don’t find it necessary to tell you all that I did during that time in my life. In fact, it would likely be faster and easier to tell you what I didn’t do during that time than to try to list out my many sins. But suffice it to say that it was indeed my darkest hour. It was simply a chapter in my life or a verse in my lifesong that was that very darkest hour before dawn. It was my time to walk in sin and sadness and my time where down was the only direction I was looking and heading.
And if June Carter Cash meant it as a love song, then it would be my love song to the world. Not as in “the world” in a nice happy hippie term, but “the world’ as it is now – lost and lonely and for the most part, led by the devil himself. The Bible tells us that the forces we work against when we strive to be who God has created us to be are The World, The flesh and the devil. Well if that is the case, then this time would have been my love song to all three. If we work with all the cliché’s about the devil and hell and the lake of fire, then surely this was my time to go down down down and it did indeed burn, burn, burn.
I hate that verse ever had to be written, but had it not, my song would not be working towards the same ending as it is now. If I didn’t carry such shame from that time, then I never would have felt the need to carry it to the foot of the cross and lay it at His feet. I might never have met the one who loves the lowly if I were not so sure I was just that. So I have carried it to Him and laid that burden down. I have confessed to Him who I was and asked him to take it away and turn me into who He made me to be. And on my worst days, I go pick it back up from him and try to do it again because while He has forgiven me, I maybe have not. But I do know that his promises are true and whether I feel that way every day, I am indeed forgiven and washed clean.
I am thankful that when I met Kenny, we both admitted to one another that we had lived some chapters of our lives in this place. We asked each other what we felt were some key questions that we would really just have to know about each other, and we left the rest behind us. We figured that those people we had been – those were very different people than who we were when we met and certainly than who we were going to be going forward. We decided that if the Bible told us that “In Christ we are all new creation” then we didn’t need to dwell on the disappointments in the old versions of ourselves.
There was one thing I needed him to know though. This one dark thing I have carried with me now for over a decade. I didn’t want to tell him but it was that one thing that I had to know that he knew and loved me anyway.
I remember when I did tell him– I handled it very poorly. To be completely fair, I lied about it for a year or so first. Because it wasn’t one of our key questions we thought we just had to know, I didn’t tell him in the beginning. I said nothing about it for months and then randomly brought it up as a joke one night to gauge the reaction. It didn’t go well, so I pulled the whole “I was only joking anyway” thing. He really didn’t believe me for almost a year after that, he would ask, and I would lie. It was the one lie we had between us and I hated it. I had sworn that I wasn’t going to walk around in life lying to myself or the people that I loved. I was daily praying to God for a healthy honest relationship and yet not telling him the whole truth. I knew I was going to marry him and I could not bear the thought that I would have to lie about this for the next 60 years – or worse –that he would eventually find out anyway and then be devastated that I had not told him the truth. And for me, I needed to know that he knew and still wanted to stay.
I agonized over this for the longest time. It’s all God’s fault too. See, I kept rationalizing that since I had confessed it to Him; I didn’t need to confess it to Kenny. And really, that is true. But I had lied to my future husband and that needed to be resolved and every time I prayed about it, I knew.
So finally on the 20th of January, a little over a year after we started dating, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cried and cried and cried all day. I prayed for hours – I called my friend who had led me to Christ and I told her what was wrong and what I had done. And when Kenny got home that night, I told him too.
I am still so humbled by his reaction. He simply looked at the floor for a few moments and then said, “Well, I hate that we have to know this and to live with this, but Lord knows I would want you to judge me by my past….”
More than anything, I do hate that we have to live with this. That is the part about sin that the devil doesn’t warn you about. There is no disclaimer issued that tells you that you will walk around for possibly the rest of your life knowing. No one tells you that someday the decisions you make will not only be yours to live with, but your husband’s or your children’s. No one told me that the things I did to make me feel like something would be used against me later to try to convince me that I was nothing.
No one ever looked me in the eye and said “You are more than this. You are loved and you are cherished and you are His.” I never knew that I didn’t have to give myself away to feel like I belonged. So that thing –that terrible thing that I did that I wish I never did… well, I still wish it. I wish that I didn’t have to carry it and I wish more so that my husband never had to carry it with me. But as I said earlier, all stories that have ever been told with God as a main character are stories of redemption. They are stories that can only be told and songs that can only be sung from a truly broken heart. They are the ones fraught with shame and guilt and disappointment and then re-drafted and edited down until they start to sound more like a joyous halleluiah chorus than a sad country song about fire, and down, and the time I was who I am no longer.