At seventeen, I stumbled and fell.
I referenced Allison in one of my posts this week and the events surrounding her then-anonymous letter to me, and I alluded to what I considered at the time to be a one-way trip into the mountains above my town. At the time, I wrote only what I had to in order to put the rest of the story in perspective. But since so many of you wanted to know how I came to Christ, I’m going to do that right now.
Here’s the part I didn’t tell.
The sad thing about high school is that everyone from teachers to guidance counselors expects you to be able to plan the rest of your life. That’s just not possible. Being a senior in high school is all about living in the moment. The now. It’s enjoying what you have because you’ve realized you won’t have it much longer.
Me, I enjoyed my senior year for that very reason. I was leaving. Headed for either college or some major league farm system. So while my classmates crammed and studied and stressed over SATs, me and my motley crew of friends partied, fought, and chased girls. Looking back, I was being stupid. But at the time? Oh, it was magical.
But it’s usually when we manage to convince ourselves that we have the world on a string that the string breaks. Mine broke during the sixth inning of a baseball game. Not slowly, mind you. I didn’t hear it tighten, didn’t hear it strain. There was just one clean, violent snap.
My future was there, then it was not.
Then there was nothing.
Men define themselves by what they do. It’s one of the first questions we’ll ask when meeting another man for the first time. “What do you do for a living?” we’ll ask. Me, I was always going to answer “Ballplayer” to that question. That was all I had. All I was.
I was an awkward teenager. Never confident, never truly happy. But when I stepped between those lines I was both. It was the one thing in my life that brought me joy.
Also the one thing God took away.
In a matter of weeks I had spiraled downward into the blackest hole I had ever known. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat…couldn’t feel. I was dead inside. Seventeen and dead already.
Those classmates I had been secretly mocking all year I now secretly loathed. They had their entire lives in front of them. Years of happiness. All I had were years of regret and Coulda Been. And I just couldn’t live with that. I just couldn’t live at all.
What I needed, what I craved, was rest. I had shrunk myself down to a gaunt 120 pounds and developed a pack a day Marlboro habit. I couldn’t sleep because of recurring nightmares and couldn’t eat without getting sick. I was killing myself slowly. So why not just get the whole thing over with?
People decide to kill themselves for the simple reason that doing so no longer prolongs the inevitable. Suicide seems like the most rational thing in the world, which is why at that moment you are as insane as you will ever be. I was never going to find rest in this world. The last shred of hope I had said that maybe I would find it in the next.
One thing was for sure. I was going to do it right. My end had to come in the mountains, of course, which was where so much of my life had been lived. And it would come with the obligatory teenage angst, too. I had the music picked out (Cinderella) and the alcohol already stolen (a bottle of Night Train from the local 7-11, snatched after I had sweet-talked the cashier into going into the back to get me a cold Coke. I was always a charmer). I was going to smoke a few cigarettes, down the bottle of three-dollar wine, and jump. For rest. And there would be a smile on my face the whole way down.
There, on that ledge, was when God first spoke to me. “You’re not afraid of dying,” He said, “You’re afraid of living.”
That was true. It didn’t take God to make me realize that. But it didn’t matter. Like I said, my world was black. There were no shining parts, no points of light.
“What if there’s one?” He said. “One point of light. Would you leave?”
I took a long sip of wine and tossed a spent cigarette into the bushes. “How’m I supposed to see a light in all this darkness?” I mumbled.
I looked down over the valley below, quiet and peaceful. And in the middle of all that blackness, I saw one tiny speck of light.
That’s when I left.
I drove home with no music and no alcohol. The cigarettes, of course, were still with me. I decided to take a dirt road home to avoid the police, not considering the potholes that would accompany it. I managed to dodge most of them, but the one I did hit sent my Marlboro light flying out of my mouth and onto the floorboard.
I pulled over at a small church so I could find the cigarette before I managed to either ruin the floor mat or explode my truck. I parked under the light post so I could find it. I did. As I tossed it to the side of the road, my eyes wandered to what had been put on the sign in front of the church:
OUR REST IS IN CHRIST ALONE.
I stared at that sign for a long while. Coincidence? Maybe, I thought. There were a lot of churches around with a lot of things on their front signs. But then I realized this was the only sign I would be able to see this time of night because this was the only church with a light post.
I looked back up the mountain to where I had been, and shuddered as I realized two things. One was that it was not a coincidence at all. The other was that the light post I was under was the speck of light I had seen that convinced me to live.