I’m walking through Charlotte-Douglas Airport on my way to my flight to Chicago… it hits me like a freight train… shit… what’s today’s date? September 27th… oh no… this isn’t good… I’m by myself… in an airport… at 4:45 in the morning.
Any other time this wouldn’t phase me. I love empty airports. But today is a day I don’t want to spend alone. On this day, six years ago, I attempted suicide.
I was home from Appalachian State as a sophomore and having a horrible day. My mom has taken me to her work worried I was a danger to myself, and her instincts weren’t wrong. I didn’t want to live, ok maybe not that but I wanted it all to stop. I wanted peace, I wanted balance. I knew I could bring that about with a bottle of pills. So I took what I had and started reading JK Rowling’s newest book, A Casual Vacancy.
I was ready to go into the gentle goodnight and answer to whatever god was dumb enough to put me on earth in the first place. But that’s when God showed up, and embraced me and said, “Child what the hell are you doing?”
I immediately got help and found my confirmation mentor in my mom’s office, Bertha Hamilton. I handed her the bottle of pills and told her what I had done. In a moment of sheer terror she looked on me and loved me. She told me it would be ok and we would get help. We went to the emergency room with Bertha and my mom not leaving my side, my dad rushing to see me. I can’t help but think he was re-living losing his own brother to suicide some years before. But this, by the grace of God would be different.
They pumped my stomach and sent me on an insurance-expense paid vacation to Frye Regional Medical Center where I was locked away in the South Unit. I don’t remember much, just knowing that I was a horrific excuse for a human being. I knew that I had failed at the mental health game and I had failed my parents. But through it all, God was there.
I come from the Mainline Protestant Tradition where dreams and visions are easily explained away. But I remember dreaming for the first time in what seemed like forever. I dreamed of my uncle, John, and my late friend Abbey both assuring me that I was worth more than I could see in the moment. It may have been the medicine, I hope it was divine intervention.
I tell you this story not for pity. I’ve left that behind. I tell you this story because I trust that “we are more than conquerors” to borrow from the New Testament.
Deeper than that, I’m here at this airport, alone, not because I’m a failure, but because I’m pursuing a PhD in Theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. I am wearing the pullover that was given to me when I preached at Harvard’s Memorial Church, at age 25… Something none of my peers have done. I’ve finished two books since then and started a third one. I am a survivor– No, I am a thriving child of God. I am someone who has stared death in the face and lived to tell the tale.
Had you told me six years ago this is where I would be I would have laughed in your face. But God is bigger than six years of pain and triumph. God is bigger than suicides both attempted and completed. God is a big tent God. I am loved by my wife and family. I am loved by my poodle and my friends. I am loved by my students and colleagues, and I’m afraid you can’t convince me otherwise.
So this year, on the anniversary of my attempted suicide, I am going to a Cubs game to celebrate. I’m going to meet with my PhD committee and I am going to succeed. Because I have that love that goes with me even in an empty airport.
I am more than a survivor or a statistic, I am beloved.