From Death to Life, and the Process In Between: A story of a woman who found her resilience and hope in the midst of her eleventh suicide attempt. Told through my eyes, a neighbor whose house sat just right across the street.
The first time I met my friend I was consoling her mother as the paramedics tried to revive her teenage daughter. She was lying on the floor as they pumped a fluid into her stomach to get her to vomit up the overdose of drugs she’d just consumed. I just kept affirming her mother that she was a good mom and this was not her fault, for I know how shame works. A few moments later, the pills were thrown up and life was revived. I squeezed mom tight and told her I’d be right across the street if she needed me. I walked out the door and the fresh air hit me like my own renewal of breath.
After a few days of her recovery, I was invited over to sit and chat. I put my kids to bed and walked over to her house. Her mom had invited me over in hopes that someone my age, just a decade older than her, could bring a hope that she could not. I trembled as I walked. What do I say to this girl except that I understood how desperate she felt? I’d felt that way too before. But would empathy be enough? I entered the home and said hello to her family members before I made my way into the room where she sat on one end of the couch. I hadn’t seen her face yet, only her legs as she lied on the floor that afternoon getting her stomach pumped, and she didn’t know I was there that day. When I entered the room, her attitude told me right away that her mom set this up, and she wasn’t interested. It’s ok, I thought, I can handle an attitude. I extended my hand and introduced myself and she showed me the side of the couch she left for me to sit on. I got straight to the point. “How are you today?” As much as I thought she didn’t want me to be sitting there, taking up her space and interrupting her life, she showed up in the conversation. She let me love on her just a little, and that was my only motive. I shared empathy with her because I’d been in her shoes before. Maybe not to the extent that she was in, but I’d known despair closer than I knew joy — and sometimes just finding out that someone can identify with your pain lifts just enough of the burden. It’s good for us to know we aren’t alone.I shared a bit of my life with her and how I came out of deep depression through encountering the love of Jesus. She said it wasn’t for her, but I told her that it was ok, I’d carry her faith this time because I knew that it was.
Within a few weeks of this episode we found out that because of recent choices she’d made she would have to spend a year in the county jail. She made a wrong decision that had consequences, and I worried about her. But as much as I worried, I knew God was up to something. This suicide attempt was her eleventh attempt in just three months. I thanked God for intervening as much as he did. The enemy was 0 for 11, he wasn’t going to succeed.
My friend spent time in jail and we wrote letters back and forth. I still keep her letters in my bedside table. It wasn’t her words that I held onto, it was the fact that her fingers were moving a pen on paper and she trusted me with her thoughts. This too had become something healing for me — a pen on paper. I knew the more she processed the more she let it all out, and she needed to release the burdens on her heart. And then one day I noticed I hadn’t gotten a letter recently. I was driving to get my daughter from school and a pain hit me in the stomach. I felt something deep inside that said something was wrong. I started praying and called my husband. I found out later that she’d tried another suicide attempt while in her cell.
Every time I’d enter the post office they knew where my letters were going. They didn’t ask questions at first, but then one brave man spoke up. He said, “this is a good thing you’re doing, ya know?” I smiled and said she was really important to me. What he didn’t know is how hard it was for me to actually write these letters. I was nervous because I’d never written back and forth to someone in jail. But more so than that, my words felt heavy with responsibility. Not a false responsibility, like her life was dependent on me saving her, but a responsibility to say exactly what the Spirit of God was pressing on my heart to say to this girl whom he loved with a deep affection. It was compassion and also truth. She had a fight within her that I could see and she needed to know that it wasn’t going to be easy just to let it all go. When an opportunity came to go visit her one on one I knew it was God making a way and I couldn’t say no.
I pulled into the parking lot of the county jail, just a few counties over from mine. I observed as I saw mothers carrying their children through the same doors I’d walk in right after them. Some children were running in with excitement, others were crying. I shut my car off and sat in silence to gather my thoughts, and my heart which was beating rapidly. I closed my eyes, placed my hand over my chest, took a deep breath, and assured myself that I was safe. I got out of the car and walked through the side door into a concrete room, no bigger than 10ft. by 10ft. Painted grey bricks lined up walls from floor to ceiling. There was no color anywhere. Sitting on a desk before me was a brown telephone. To the right of me was a room twice as small as the one I stood in. This room was where conversations through phone and tv screen would take place. I opened up the white three pronged binder and signed in. I dialed the operator and told her who I came to see. She told me we’d be in the single room to the left of the phone and screen rooms. I found out later that this was because she was in isolation. A fury rose up inside of me when I heard this. Why would they put someone who had just attempted suicide IN isolation? Anyway, I wouldn’t be seeing her through a tv screen but she’d be sitting across from me, separated by an impenetrable glass wall. She told me to wait in there while they called for her.
I walked into the room with no windows through a steel door that I left cracked a bit. The heaviness of this place sat on me like a weighted blanket. The air conditioning and concrete walls made a summer day tremendously cold. My heart began to panic. The beating sped up and thumped visibly through my chest, or so it felt, and I quieted her down. We’re going to be fine. I slid into a metal folding chair, the room being so narrow I had to straddle the seat. How can they stand this place? I thought. I wanted to bust through the doors and free everyone inside those cells. But then I remembered that sometimes our consequences have to be leave a stronger distaste than the desperation of temporary relief that resulted in us getting locked up in the first place. It wasn’t long, maybe five minutes of waiting, and she appeared on the opposite side of me. At first, I questioned if this was the right girl.
I sat across from my friend, who I’d hugged just a few months before the police escorted her away, and I didn’t even recognize her. There was no life left in her eyes. We small talked a bit, assuring her that her younger sister was doing well. She and my daughter would play some. I talked about her brothers mowing my grass and how they helped my husband chop up a tree in our backyard. I tried to remind her that the birds still sang outside of these walls. But like we all know, small talk is good for roughly five minute and not a minute more. “So. How are you today?” Maybe this was a bad idea to ask this question, but I figured I’d start there. She laughed, and so did I. We both knew this wasn’t easy, her more than me. I apologized and she smiled. I threw my heart immediately into the conversation and went straight for what I knew had just happened only a few days earlier. It was her 12th suicide attempt now. I looked for any way to lift her spirit and feared I’d fall terribly short. She felt a lot of shame for wanting to die, explaining that she really didn’t want to die but… and I assured her that I knew the feeling. I started to feel myself getting angry at the entire situation. I saw an enemy at play and I knew his tactics so well. She began to grow apathetic to living life the longer we chatted, but I had an hour and a half with her and I wasn’t leaving just yet. I asked her to look me in the eyes so she could see the emotion behind mine. I would return to her what she’d given me that first day we met: an attitude. “Listen, you need to fight for your life. You are too important, to valuable to let it slip away. This isn’t the end.” I went on, trying hard to ignite that flame I knew was inside of her. Her eyes remained glazed over but I wasn’t speaking to her eyes, I was speaking to her spirit. I knew that this was life or death and sometimes these situations requires a harsh truth that sets fire to the apathy and ignites a passion to move in a different direction than the one you are headed in. “How many times have you attempted suicide?” I asked boldly. “I’ve lost count.” She said half-heartedly. “Well I know because your mom told me. You’ve tried to take your life twelve times in the last 6 months.” She shrugged her shoulders. “So, did it work?” I said. She looked up and at me square in the eyes. This got her attention, the fire was lit. If she could have jumped through the glass and punched me I would have let her. “There is a reason you are still here. And you need to stay here.” I began to cry. And she started to cry too.
I let the silence wash over us for a few minutes. I reached for my bible that I grabbed from the passenger seat of my car before I entered this building, and I opened it to a story I saved for her. I asked her if I could read it to her and she said yes. For the last thirty minutes of our time together I read her a story and prayed that hope would resonate so deeply in her heart she would be marked forever. She listened intently. Our time was ending and the guards came and knocked on her door for it to be opened. She had to leave. I told her that I loved her and that I expected to see her at my front door in just a few more months. She agreed, and she left.
I drove home in sobering humility. Having no idea if my words did anything good. The only words I could pray was a pleading, God, you must bring her out of this. I also questioned the boldness that came over me, because I would never be so bold to speak freely like I had just spoken to her. And peace washed over me. Just a few letters later, on a warm Tennessee day, I looked through my front window and saw a red headed beauty, full of life, walking up to my front door. I didn’t look a second more. I ran outside and threw my arms around her. She stayed true to her word, and she didn’t stay mad at me after all.
This was nearly two summers ago. Time has come and gone, and life for her has not been easy. The burden on my heart to pray for her continuously remained but I had to step back a bit, relationally. Not because she crossed any lines, but because God didn’t need pride taking me to the grave myself. There was nothing left for me to do, just pray. I’d check in with her occasionally, and she’d give me updates. There was an opportunity for her to enter into a rehabilitation center close by — one I knew of personally after having received the same treatment in a one on one counseling setup almost seven years earlier. I encouraged her to look into it, go tour the home and see if it’s a good fit for her. For I knew they’d take good care of her there. She promised to look into it and eventually set up a time to tour it. She was nervous to go and leave a life she’d known for so long, but she wanted freedom more. She believed this was an option to find it. Everything was looking promising. She did the diligence of filling out the application, getting everything tied up on her end, staying on her medication that the doctors prescribed her, trying to take the best care of herself until she could get into a safe place where she could crumble if she needed to. And then she got the call. She was denied entry.
The rejection hit her mother the hardest. I could hear it in her tone as she spoke on the other end of the phone line. I promised to keep praying and reach out to all the contacts I knew to get her someone to talk to in the meantime. I assured her that God had not brought her daughter this far to let everything slip away. Again offering to carry a faith for the both of them that only an outside objective can sometimes carry. My faith was small, but God doesn’t need a lot. A year passed and everyone was still anticipating a plan that was yet to be revealed. I got a call from mom and she asked if they could all come to church with us Sunday night. They have a home church that they have been a family of for years, but her kids wanted to look into ours, so of course you know my answer to this. Yes! We all piled into our cars and followed each other to church. We picked a row on the far right side of the venue. This isn’t a church building in a traditional sense. We rent a building that is known as a music venue and skate park in downtown Nashville. As much as I love beautiful architecture, this unflattering building in the middle of the city is perfect. And God sure used it that night.
I sit next to my friend, hoping a church environment wasn’t so uncomfortable for her. You never know how one will interpret church in the beginning, and in my protective nature I made sure to sit right next to her, providing her a loyalty that said if I belong in this place than you do too. The music started and worship began, the melody drawing us close to the heart of Jesus. Some of us began standing to our feet. And then the most beautiful sound erupted next to me. My beautiful friend was singing louder than anyone else in that room. I closed my eyes and listened to the life pouring from her mouth. I became so overwhelmed with the kindness of God that I let her song wash over me and I cried tears of joy. She walked right up to the front of the stage and dedicated her life to Jesus that night, and there I stood next to her mother, my arm around her as she cried in relief. I was watching God pursue this woman with determination. For his plans for her were to live, and to live in such a way that the love he poured out over her was a living water that overflowed onto the ground she walked on, causing everyone who crossed paths with her to stop and notice that something about her was different from the rest. They would seek it out for themselves, being far too curious to let up until they found it. I see the flooding of this living water all over her life, even when she doesn’t see it herself. And God has only just gotten started.
Fast forward a year, to this month of April, when I saw this same red headed beauty walking up my driveway and towards my front door. She rang my doorbell and I invited her and her younger sister inside. I hadn’t seen my friend in awhile. I knew life was still up and down, but I also knew that I was not to be worried. I embraced the both of them with a hug and they asked me for an onion. I laughed at such a random request. I dug in the pantry, remembering I had actually just bought 35 onions at Costco just a few weeks ago (not really 35, but many more onions than I actually needed). I cut one in half to make sure it was still good and handed it to them with the seal of approval. “Is that all?” I asked. It wasn’t. My friend proceeded to tell me that she resubmitted her application to this rehabilitation center and she’d find out tomorrow if she got accepted. I acknowledged her courage for trying again, and her persistence of getting all the new records they needed from doctors, psychiatrists, etc. Gathering all of these items were not an easy work, I knew that. I gave her a big hug and promised to be praying that this time would be her time. And you better believe as soon as she stepped out of my door I let out a shout to heaven, Jesus, go ahead and do it! A text from her mother 24 hours later read: She got in.
This is where you come into the story. As my friend prepares to enter into this new season of healing, and trusting her heart with a household of people she has never met before, in a city she’s never even visited before, could you all be bold in your prayers for her? Please pray that God would hand pick her counselor, her roommate, her bedroom, even the colors on the walls. That the details of this home would soothe her heart in such a way that she feels at home the minute she walks through the front doors. I’ll be honest, this is a little harder for me than I knew it would be. For reasons unknown to me, she was placed in a sister home in another state. It is the same organization with the same principles, but I do not know anyone there. I not only know a handful of the staff at the location here in Tennessee, but I trust them with my life because a lot of them are now my friends. So, for all who love her and agree to send her off to a place that is just as foreign to us as it is to her, we also have to let go and trust that God has appointed this place, and these people, and this very moment, to bring the breakthrough we’ve all be waiting for. And man, is she ready!
Here’s to life, my friends. We are braver than we give ourselves credit for. We are an ember with a life ahead that is as bright as a blazing fire. We will not easily burn out.