One of the most defining moments of my life began to unfold two years ago today.
I laid in a dark room on the third floor of the house I was living at in complete isolation and depression for a few weeks. I had a back brace on from an auto accident I had a few weeks earlier, and I felt useless. That was inevitable since I got every single ounce of my worth from what I did.
I spent about a week making lists of everyone I knew in my life. I thought carefully through each one of them and one-by-one, checked them off my list as I became sure they would get over my death quickly. I completely convinced myself that I would make their lives easier if I just took myself off the game board.
I was completely okay to die. In fact, I was ready to die. I didn’t see it as an act of selfishness. Actually, I thought I was about to do the most altruistic thing I had ever done.
I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to make the lives of those who were having to “deal with me” easier. It was all I had to offer them. It was an act of love. That was my why.
I thought through everything. I justified and rationalized the entire process, start to finish. I researched my facts, and was at peace. I was ready to meet Jesus and hang with my dad.
I even convinced myself I would be remembered for the high points of my life, not my final choices.
I had a file on my computer desktop with instructions and wishes for my arrangements.
Thank God He intervened.
Looking back, the series of events that took place on July 10, 2017 didn’t make a lot of sense. As I fell deeper into my own hole of darkness, a rescue squad was coming up from the bottom of that hole.
I refused to reach up and grab the rope above me, but I had no choice but to be caught by the loving arms below me.
It was the night that a somewhat new friend made an intentional choice to get messy. She said yes to getting in deep with whatever God was about to do in my life. In the natural, she should have run while she still could. But she stayed and she walked alongside me for the next 18 months, much of which was pure Hell for her.
It was the night my pastor honored his own promise to always be there, and to love me well, no matter what. He would have been justified to wash his hands of my chaos. He had already dealt with it for two years at this point. I had looked him in the eye only seven months earlier and promised I would never want to kill myself again. I broke my promise. He could have easily broken his. But he didn’t. He dug his heels in deeper. And to this day, he remains steadfast in his commitment to not abandon me and believing in who I can be.
That night set a new season in motion.
I began to crumble that night, and over the next weeks and months, demolition would continue until there was nothing left. I was an empty shell of a human being. I didn’t have the strength to walk on my own two feet for several more months.
Conversations better known as interventions would drive me to be prostrate before God and the rest of the world, completely broken and exposed. The pain of vulnerability pierced my soul in ways I didn’t even know were possible. I finally collapsed under the weight of the shame of not being able to hold it all together anymore.
I spent three days in a mental health facility, which was nothing more than an appointment between God and I in an empty room where I got to finally feel and be honest about the emotions of 27 years of chaos and pain in my life.
As I reflect on that day two years ago and the days since then, I am humbled by the miracle I am living in.
I remember time and time again how God would answer prayers in the midst of my desperate cries for help. All He wanted was for me to ask for help, which I had never done before.
I’m at a loss for words over the people I barely knew who stepped into the chaos of my theater and asked to be characters in my story at their own risk.
I’m in awe of a church that had my back when it wasn’t easy, and the price they were willing to pay for my healing and redemption.
I’m on my knees in gratitude for the resources it took to get me the help I needed through motive-transition therapy, based on God’s truths. And the way God drafted the world’s two greatest humans to lead me through that journey, who continue to choose to do so even today from a place of love, humility and grace. My therapists are the real MVPs.
I’m forever indebted to the authors whose messages rang in my ears through my recovery. One of the books that met me where I was right in the middle of my process was Kill the Spider by Carlos Whittaker. Books by Louis Giglio, Brene Brown, Kyle Idleman, Dr. Henry Cloud, Chip Dodd and Erwin Raphael McManus changed me. They rescued me in the early mornings and late nights during my rebuilding process.
Depression and suicide ideation are the real deal, guys. I’m not here to sugar coat either of them. You’ll never see me minimize or dramatize either one. They’re real and more people are struggling than we even realize.
I won’t post a website or a toll-free phone number as resources if you or someone you know are struggling with thoughts of depression or suicide. You know where to find those. Hint: Google is your friend.
What I will do is beg those of you who can’t wrap your heads around why or how anyone could get so dark in a world full of resources to pay very close attention to the rest of this post.
I’m serious. Turn off the TV, go into an empty room and read these words with an open mind and humble conviction.
I struggled with suicide ideation for 12 years because when I told my parents I tried to drown myself in the creek on our property as a freshman in high school and I needed help, they laughed at me. And when I told a trusted leader in my life a few years later, he shrugged me off. A pastor prayed with me once, and a counselor handed me some literature on self-care and releasing endorphins.
I found myself trying to figure out how to die more times than anyone who loves me would be comfortable with.
Why did nobody take me seriously?
Because I didn’t look like someone who was ready to die.
I was the strongest person you knew. I appeared to be wise beyond my years, committed to kingdom work, way ahead of the curve in the success game, extroverted and well-liked, full of humor and ready to laugh at any joke – especially the ones about myself. I was involved in everything I touched and seemingly led with stability and conviction.
I didn’t look like suicide, and because I didn’t look suicidal 99 percent of the time, I was clearly mistaken the one percent I said I was.
People accused me of just trying to get attention.
Guess what? They were absolutely correct. I was starved for it.
God created us to NEED attention. It’s a divine need. When we don’t get it in healthy and constructive ways from the people around us, we will stop at nothing to get it. There are no limits. No rules. There’s us and there’s starvation. That’s it.
If you grew up in a safe and loving home with a Mom and a Dad who met all of your divine needs from the moment you were conceived and they raised you up to live a balanced life with rich relationships and an assurance of who you are as a child of God, you can’t possibly understand what attention deprivation looks like. It feels foreign to you. It isn’t like anything you have ever experienced so it doesn’t even feel possible.
Your lack of understanding is actually justified. I can’t expect you to understand a language you’ve never learned.
Growing up, I was physically and emotionally abandoned from the womb, and abused in every way throughout my childhood and adolescence.
I also lived in a constant state of chaos from before I entered the world until just a few years ago.
Chaos was my natural habitat. Before I got into recovery, I physically could not survive outside of my natural habitat. It would have been like a fish trying to survive for long out of water.
When you put the desperate need for attention with the natural ecosystem of chaos, you get a ticking time bomb. You get a really unhealthy person, desperately trying to satisfy their own needs in a world that won’t stop long enough to do it for them.
You get a kid who is willing to create chaos to get the attention she needs.
You get a kid who has run out of options and thinks the only solution is to go big AND go home.
Suicide is on the rise today because more and more people are living in the isolation of their own despair and nobody seems to care. Eleven-year-olds are killing themselves because nobody is meeting their needs. Veterans are convincing themselves everyday that their best days are behind them. Celebrities and CEOs are succumbing to the reality that it’s lonely at the top. Teenagers are lost in a sea of comparison and have nowhere to turn but social media and Hollywood.
And I’m not just talking about people on the other side of the tracks or the country. I’m talking about people you know and love. They’re imprisoned in their own complexity. You aren’t helping by assuming you know what their motives are, or knowing what their motives are and dismissing them.
So how can you be a part of the solution?
It’s going to take work. And probably some of your resources. But definitely a piece of your heart.
You’ve got to ask yourself what love requires of you.
Pray first, but prayer isn’t the only thing you do when you care about God’s creation. I am going to let you in on a little secret – when you’re praying for your neighbor, coworker, classmate, etc, you’re probably the rescue squad God is looking to send to them in their pit. You have a catch in your spirit for a reason.
I would have followed through that night had it not been for the person on the other end of a text conversation who was very attentive to detail. She actively listened to what I was saying and immediately responded in the moment by reaching out to my pastor. She wasn’t wrapped up in her own world. She wasn’t flippantly listening to me and dismissing my language with a sigh.
Loving God means loving His people. Loving messy people where they’re at takes faith. And a lot of it.
The psychiatrist I saw two years ago understood I needed more than to be told I was loved. I needed to experience love. Love from God. Love from people. Love from myself.
I stayed with a family for three weeks after my breakdown. They didn’t know me very well at all and they had three young kids. They left me at their house all day, everyday while they went to school and work.
Shortly after that, I met a couple who would become very close friends. The first time we went to lunch together, he picked up the bill. It felt like torture to let him.
When I moved into my apartment a few weeks later, all kinds of people showed up. From the time I picked the truck up until when I dropped it back off, it only took about three hours. And my bed was put together.
Inviting strangers to stay in your home, giving them rides, purchasing a meal for them or helping them move furniture up two flights of stairs will cost you. It’s going to require you to give money, time, energy and a piece of your heart.
Not a single one of these people knew for sure I wasn’t going to take advantage of them. None of them knew I was really going to get my act together. None of them knew I would stick with counseling and get all the help I did and become a completely new person. None of them could tell the future. None of them were guaranteed I was worth it. It was a risk.
But they said yes to my mess anyway.
I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on therapy in the last two years, but those three hours a week wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much if it weren’t for the display of God’s love I was experiencing all week, week in and week out.
Those people weren’t family or people who had known me for years. Many of them didn’t know me at all, or maybe for a few months. None of them were “qualified” to handle me.
They still said yes.
The yes was the difference. When I EXPERIENCED an entire community taking risks to show me how well I was loved for the first time in my life, I finally began to understand what love was.
So you’re praying for, listening to and loving on messy people right where they are. What’s next?
All of those are so significant to being a part of the solution, but this last one is critical to the process.
You have to cheer for the messy people in your life. Notice I didn’t say to cheer for them when they win. Nope. You wake up everyday and you sow into them. You speak truth and life into their lives. You clap for them when they succeed at the big things and the little ones. You rush to pick them up out of the dirt when they fall in the middle. You make posters and take pictures and send them cards and like their Facebook statuses.
And you keep on doing it forever. You make sure the messy people in your life know that you are ALWAYS in their corners. Don’t hear me wrong. Don’t enable and get taken advantage of. Your involvement with messy people will evolve with seasons. I am not still sleeping on my friends’ couch. In fact, I sometimes go months without talking to or seeing them. But I still know they have my back. I know I can call them in a heartbeat if I need something.
When you approach messy people as “projects,” you have a start date and an end date to the life of your relationship. Don’t do that. People are not projects. They’re people. And their mess isn’t a hazard. It’s their life.
Just to reiterate – you don’t continue to sacrifice for someone who isn’t willing to help themselves, or who puts you or your family in danger. In these cases though, you don’t have to write people off. Your investment just may have to look different.
Authentic love has to require something of you if you want to maximize your impact.
Here’s why this is SO IMPORTANT.
I’m deep into my recovery process. In fact, I’ve crossed over to the other side of the river in a sense. I’m enjoying what we call “the new day.” I have a toolbox full of God’s truths, strategies and processes I use to help navigate all kinds of situations
I can honestly tell you I have not even thought about killing myself in the last two years. Actually, just the idea of it feels so unreal to me now that I am so far away from it.
I’m not on medication. My “sobriety” is dependent on knowing I’m not alone. It’s in knowing my worth.
Take a guess at one of the ways God displays His love and affection for us every single day.
Through each other.
So if you really want to be the piece of the puzzle that someone needs to help discover who they are as a child of God, love them like God does.
We are going to fail each other. It’s a promise. We are human. I’m not compelling you to be perfect. I’m asking you to make some sacrifices and give of yourself even when it hurts so that someone else like me can experience the power of God’s love through you. God doesn’t stop loving anyone. Not ever.
Loving messy people well is a lot of trial and error. You won’t always get it right. But if you really want to love all the people in your life really well and especially the messy ones, get to really know them and find out how you can best help them. There are situations you cannot help on your own. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Know how you can help, and do that well.
One last thing – it is never too early to help, but it is too late way too often. Don’t assume someone who is only starting to drown knows how to swim. You could live to regret it.
What does love require of you today?
To anyone who made it this far and you’re where I was two years ago, all I want to say is we need you. Tomorrow needs you. Reach up and grab the rope above you or collapse into the arms below you, but don’t give up. You are seen, known and loved. I value your story. There’s hope. Hang in there.