This is how I made my friend, Mackie Renee Johnson. But before I get into the story I want to tell you a little bit about Mackie. She is a dancer, a very gifted and artistic one. Dancing is her life; “moving is her deepest way of expression.” Mackie’s eyes see beauty in every broken part of this world. She loves people (a lot). And even when she is struggling with darkness or chronic mind pain she still finds lessons, light, and Jesus. Here’s some of the things she loves: oversized shirts, coffee (all day, everyday), letters, people’s smells, long hugs, paint, dried flowers, good album covers, and rain. She notices art in feelings, situations, people, and things like that. See, Mackie notices beauty everywhere and lives authentically. She’s a real person, easy to talk to, easy to love.
Here’s the story:
I first saw Mackie at The Calling’s dance recital in 2014 and her dancing amazed me. I started dancing at The Calling Dance Academy a few months later. It wasn’t until the next year at my first dance competition that she really talked to me, and I thought that was so cool. Months passed and we still weren’t friends. On July 7th, 2016, I came to the studio to hear that Mackie had hurt her knee during ballet that day. I hardly knew her and I didn’t think much of it. But a few days later I contacted her and asked how she was. Her reply was precious, but her knee wasn’t doing any better. Then after that we just started texting, all the time. I thought it was the greatest, someone I had admired (& still admire) was becoming a close friend. It was joy. So really, we became close friends because of her injury.
But then one afternoon I came home to a text containing the MRI results for her knee. “My knee cap & femur bones are bruised, part of my bone is chipped, which tore off part of my cartilage and two of my ligaments are torn, and I’ll need surgery if I ever want to dance again.” (She dislocated her knee). Mackie was heartbroken and so was I. I wanted to cry so badly, but for some reason I held it in. Honestly, I regret not letting myself cry; a year later those tears have yet to be cried. As soon as I heard this news, I realized how much I loved her and how much I cared about her. Through this trial our relationship grew. We still continually texted and got to know each other, through that form of communication. On July 28th, 2016, we actually hung out for the first time: we baked cookies and talked. It was lovely. The letters she wrote me and the texts she sent me will always be treasured. On August 11th, 2016, the day before her surgery, we had our first coffee date and talked for hours. The surgery was at 11:30 on August 12th; I texted her to see if she was nervous. Her simply reply was: “Jesus has me.” That phrase sticks with me to this day.
About two o’clock I finally got her text. Overall the surgery went well. She was fine but felt pretty horrible physically. Essentially, they took out the piece of torn cartilage, which means she does not have her entire knee cap. She was on crutches for two weeks. The worst part was that she wasn’t able to dance for four months. Although the injury made her realize how much she loves The Calling Dance Academy (our studio) and how much she loves dancing. Mackie is so brave: every day she would come to dance just to watch classes and company rehearsals.
In September she told me what she had learned from her injury: “I have definitely gained patience and was okay with the unknown or okay with the unexpected. I’ve gained an awareness of my surroundings, ones who are also hurt. I can sympathize with them. Or sympathize with people who take for granted the things they can do; hoping that I won’t take things for granted later on. I’ve also gained a new perspective, that these times of going to the doctor, sitting out, regaining muscle — it’s all such a small time compared to all the time I’ve had dancing and all the time I will have. But also hoping that I will use the time and the place that I dance in the way I should. To be grateful for it. I was too caught up in pride before I was hurt. I wanted to do things on my own and well, it obviously didn’t work out. God needed me to see how good I had it. How blessed I was but also how blessed I am. Looking back I wouldn’t ever take away my injury.” God was helping Mackie to learn to rely on Him more, rather than people, or even dancing. God’s grace is sufficient for all needs, all hurt, all brokenness — her injury reveled a greater love, and her losses showed all she (everyone) truly has is Jesus.
“Empty handed, but not forsaken…” Broken Vessels, Hillsong
Finally, in November she danced again. She was so happy! I can’t describe how amazing it felt for her. Even though she was dancing again, she was still in a lot of pain, physically and mentally. She just existed in a dark place, distancing herself from people who loved her. It was difficult, even for me; you know you love someone when you hurt, when they hurt. And she was hurting. She was fearful, stuck in her mind, unsure — for months off and on. “Captured in a place without breath or life” was how Mackie described it. But in December something happened: she cried. She finally let it all out. She had bottled up incomprehensible feelings and thoughts to the point where she became numb. I remember, I was at her house a few days before Christmas and she told me she had finally cried the night before. We were so happy. That day there was something different, there was joy, there was relief.
In March 2017, she dislocated her knee, again. It happened twice, while she was dancing. But after prayer, ice baths, a short break from dancing, and a few cups of coffee, she was okay. Mackie competed in all the competitions our team did. Except in the second competition of the season, she did not perform her two solos (because of re-dislocating her knee). Miraculously, she performed fourteen dances in the recital this year. Mackie was also able to go to The Oklahoma Arts Institute for ballet classes earlier this summer. She is currently competing in Florida for ADA (American Dance Awards) Nationals. At this time last year, Mackie was sitting out, watching her friends dance, move, and live. But this year she’s in Florida dancing and moving; this year Mackie is alive.
Through this crazy journey I’ve personally learned a lot for myself and from Mackie. She taught me about bravery, vulnerability, appreciating dancing, loving people, and so much more. Through this I’ve learned how important it is to be humble enough to completely rely on God. God has taught me how to love bigger, see beauty, and be real. Growth happens in the breaking and in the in-betweens. Mackie and I learned that God always has a purpose; His plan is always full of good and full of grace. “In Him we are also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in the conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12 Jesus is working out all the raw and ugly pain to bring Himself glory and His humans light.
It can be really difficult to constantly love someone who can be distant and in darkness. But I learned my love makes a difference. The encouragement and the joy that I gave Mackie blessed her. Sometimes I need reminders from Mackie like this one: “You have made this crazy journey of getting hurt, doing nothing for hours at a time, tons of doctors appointments & all the other things so bearable. You’ve been Jesus to me. You have showed me the love that God has for me through the love you have for me. This journey isn’t over yet and I have no doubt that, because of your beautiful and thoughtful and lovely being, you will be with me until the end and passed the end.” I hardly thought I had made an impact on her, but I had, and hopefully I constantly do.
So friends, don’t underestimate the power of your love. Your love is big, beautiful, and bright, it changes hearts, minds, and lives.
“Don’t ever lose your innocence. Don’t you lose that heart. Don’t lose your tenderness. But most of all, don’t lose your love.” Don’t Lose Your Love, Ivan & Alyosha
I love you so big, Mackie Renee.