I started writing songs when I was in High School. In recent years, life, calling, and family have redirected my creative bandwidth to other endeavors—good work I love and happily give myself to. But in recent years a desire to write songs has returned. So I’ve been knocking off the rust a little.
Songs from Struck is a short EP inspired by the events described in my book Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death. In the spring of 2013, I developed a blood-borne bacterial infection that destroyed my mitral valve and required urgent open-heart surgery. Struck (the book) chronicles that experience, from the onset of affliction through diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and re-entry.
My story is the setting for the book, but it is not the subject. Struck is a book about what happens when affliction and faith collide. I wanted to explore the common experiences afflicted people share—the onset of a sense of frailty, the fear, the grief, the humor, the routines, the new ways of relating to people who love us and are afraid for us and for themselves.
I committed myself to the work of paying as much attention as I could to the medical, spiritual, relational, emotional, pharmaceutical, and physical experiences of this journey my failing heart had set me on. I asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes and used them to write the chapters that make up the book. Along the way, some of those same themes became Songs from Struck.
Dance with Me (Track 1) is the song mentioned in Chapter 6: The Letters. My good friend Andy Osenga (who plays all the instruments you hear on the EP except drums, which were played by the amazing Paul Eckberg, and violin, played by the brilliant Daniel Fisher) offered to help me record this song for my wife to mark this season of our marriage. Due to the dangers involved in my surgery, we knew we needed to record my vocals before I went under. I’ll never forget when Andy said, “Let’s get your vocals now, and I’ll take care of the rest.” That was the same day I gave him the letters I had written to my wife and children, and asked him to hold them for me. It was a holy moment, and a bold responsibility for him to assume on my behalf. I sang this vocal while I was still hooked up to an IV antibiotic pump. The shaker in the chorus is actually one of my many pill bottles.
The Ballad of Andy Catlett (Track 2) is inspired by Wendell Berry’s short novel Remembering, which explores themes of anger and forgiveness discussed in Chapter 11: Tornado in a Trailer Park. Berry’s novel powerfully unpacks what it is like to suffer an affliction that takes away a person’s ability or strength. In Remembering, Andy Catlett loses his right hand in a farming accident. Being right handed, Andy felt he lost his hold on the world. He couldn’t dress himself. He couldn’t even write his own name. He took out his frustrations on those who were trying to love him. Eventually, his wife sat him down and told him that if he wanted to get better, one thing he would have to do would be to ask her to forgive him for how he was treating her. All the anger and indignation of being a victim rose up inside of him and he thought about leaving her and starting over. But he came to realize that her love for him was an anchor that held him in the one place he belonged—broken as he was. Anger in affliction can be profoundly disorienting. Love is a true north.
Both Alive (Track 3 – co-written with Andrew Osenga) tells a story based on themes discussed in Chapter 5: The Distance. When someone goes through some kind of suffering, affliction, or loss, those who are close to them go through it too, each in their own way. But even though they’re both struggling through the same thing, they experience it differently—which can create a strange and hard to understand feeling of distance. Often it is the things we share in common that make us feel most distant from one another. This song doesn’t attempt to solve this phenomenon (I don’t know if that’s possible). But it does try to recognize it, describe it, and shine some light on it because there is great power in naming.
[Songs from Struck is available on iTunes, Spotify, and here in the Rabbit Room. Use the discount code “Struck” in the Rabbit Room Store to get it for free. You can also pre-order Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death.]
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).