Today on the way to church, I popped in a CD I haven’t listened to in a long time, and turned up the volume. God and I had to have a long talk, and a 45 minute drive to Chulafinnee was going to do just the trick. Eventually, I got to my favorite song, and I just sang instead of talking. These were the words I really needed to say:
But, oh my God, I know there’s more than this
If you promise pain it can’t be meaningless
So make me poor if that’s the price for freedom
Don’t stop the madness
Don’t stop the chaos
Don’t stop the pain surrounding me
Don’t be afraid, Lord, to break my heart
If it brings me down to my knees, yeah
I sang my heart out, and probably cried more than I’m willing to admit. God and I have been at odds lately, and that has been affecting every other area of my life. I begged for something to break me down, to open up my heart, to let Him back in… And, man, did He ever deliver…
After lunch, I was on my way to a friend’s bridal shower, and I was so excited. I was just having a great afternoon. I stopped to get gas before I hit the road, and as the pump was filling my tank, I cleaned out my car. Since I basically LIVE in the thing, it took a little longer than it took the gas to pump. After I finished getting all the trash, I put the gas pump back and closed my gas cap. I got in the car, put on my seat belt, and plugged my phone in so that Siri could guide me to my friend’s shower.
And then… Earnest Wallace tapped on my window.
Apparently, as I was getting ready to go, his car had pulled in to the pump behind me.
“I’m very sorry, ma’am. I don’t mean to hold you up, but I saw your bumper sticker, and I just wanted to ask… Did someone in your family commit suicide?”
“No, sir,” I replied. “I almost did in high school.”
“Oh, wow. You did?”
“Yes, sir. But now I’m going into Psychology so that I can help teenagers to realize that this isn’t the answer.”
“Oh, I see.. Well, my nephew just did… My dad just died, and I was at his funeral when I found out.. I just saw your bumper sticker, and I wanted to ask…”
“Oh, no.. That’s terrible. I’m so sorry.. What’s your name?”
“Earnest Wallace.. Yeah, he was a soldier. He had PTSD. I didn’t even know about it until just now.. What’s your name?”
“I’m Jessica Sprayberry. Earnest, I’m so sorry. That’s awful. I’m going to pray for you and your family. Okay?”
“Okay, and I will pray for you, too. Are you doing good?”
“Yes, I am. I’m very good now. I just want to help other kids realize that they can be, too. This is such a big problem.”
“Yeah, apparently… Well, anyway, I don’t mean to hold you up. I just saw your bumper sticker, and was wondering. You have a good day, Jessica.”
“Okay, Earnest. You, too. I’ll be praying.”
I have been questioning. I have been searching. I have been praying. I have been doubtful. Sometimes I talk about my life plan with others, and I think, “Is this even realistic? Can anyone actually do this? Am I nuts for trying?” I keep thinking that I have it wrong, that this isn’t what God wants for me, that I messed up the plan somewhere along the way… I look at my college career, full of medical excuses and low test scores, and I can’t help but be puzzled. What is this? Am I really supposed to be a psych student? Can I even handle this much classwork? Will I ever graduate?
I put those stickers on my car last year, when I bought it. My family has always given me flack about my cars being stickered-up. “Oh, brother!” they say. “Did you put stickers all over this one?” they ask. And my answer is always this- “Yes. Yes, I did.” And I did because of people like Earnest Wallace.
Earnest, I can’t even begin to tell you how broken I am over your situation. I don’t even know you, but I feel so saddened to know what you’re going through. Suicide is one of the worst (if not THE worst) ways to lose someone. Even if there is some kind of explanation, it’s still so hard to make sense of it all. To know that your loved one must have been so agonized that they felt the only way to end their pain was to end their life.. I can’t imagine.
I know that you must be so hurt. Confused. Frustrated. Maybe even angry. You feel useless, and hopeless, wondering if you could have done anything to help or stop him. That’s the thing with suicide- it’s preventable, if you can see the signs. Sometimes you can’t… But you need to know that it isn’t your fault. And you need to know that it isn’t his fault, either.
Mental illness does not discriminate. It does not care how young or old you are; how happy or sad you are; how rich or poor you are. It does not see race, or gender, or social status. It is an invader, and it will take anyone it can sink its claws into. Your nephew might not have even known he was sick, let alone how to ask for help. Unfortunately, this is the case in so many people’s lives. Mental health is so stigmatized- “Oh, you’re depressed? You’re not normal. You’re weak. You’re crazy.”
I want you to know, Earnest, that things will get better. They will get worse, first.. But then you will come out the other side. You will be sad. You will be angry. You will want to understand, and will never be able to. You will wish you’d helped, and you will hate yourself for not doing so. You will miss him. You will cry. But eventually, you will see that the sun is still shining, the birds still sing, and the world still turns- even when it feels like yours has stopped. Someday, you will look back on your nephew and think, “He was so wonderful. He was a happy kid. He did a great honor for his country by serving in the military. I am sad for what he went through, but I am glad to have known this young man.” You will cherish his life, instead of mourning his death. You will see your time with him, however fleeting, as a blessing.
I do not want to diminish your pain. The road ahead will be long, and hard, and at times, you may wish to give up. DON’T GIVE UP. Hold on to hope. It does get better.
I meant it when I said I would be praying for you. I will be praying over you and your family for a very long time, Earnest. I know a lot of people say that as a comfort, but I do not. I will keep my word. I know how coveted prayers are in a time like this. But I can also tell you that I know that you are a very strong man. It took a lot to walk up to a stranger and tell them your story. I know that you are courageous. I know that you are going to make it through this. I could see it in your eyes. There is a fire in that soul, and it isn’t going out without a fight. You fight. You keep fighting. You ask others to help you when it feels like you can’t fight anymore. You will make it out. You will live to tell your story- your nephew’s story.
I asked God for a sign today, and it came in the form of a man who was broken enough to reach out to someone, and yet, compassionate enough to make sure that they were also doing okay. If I ever wondered why God molded me into the person I have become- through all the hardship and sadness I endured- I do not tonight. I am sure of my future. I am sure of His plan. I am sure of His love. I am sure that I will never give up on this dream. I will end suicide- first in my town, then in my state, then in my country, and then in the world. Maybe I won’t live to see that. I hope I do.. But I’ve got to start somewhere, and JSU is alright with me.