Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Anne was absolutely right. We don’t need to wait a single moment to improve the world… or to improve ourselves. When it comes to starting a gratitude practice, if we expect the “perfect moment” to show up, you can bet it will never happen. Life gets in the way. We create more excuses. Our goals keep piling up, and gratitude keeps getting shoved to the back burner.
So forget about waiting for the perfect moment to begin, because that moment is NOW…
One quick and easy way to get started on a gratitude practice is to make a habit of noticing your blessings both morning and night. You don’t even have to write them down, as in a gratitude journal, if that seems too overwhelming. Just taking a few minutes when you wake up and before you go to bed is enough to begin cementing this new practice into your routine. Before long, you’ll be easily noticing that blessings are all around you.
Here are 5 tips to help you start a gratitude practice today:
In January, countless people will make the same resolution they’ve made for the past five years: lose 20 pounds. They’ll try to do it by the latest extreme dieting fad, or think they’re suddenly going to start showing up at the gym at 4am, when they haven’t worked out once in the past 5 years. The truth is, 90% of them will quit by Valentine’s Day.
Easing into any habit is usually the best approach. By making this new gratitude practice easier on yourself, you’ll be more inclined to continue moving forward. So, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to come up with grand examples of gratitude when you’re just starting out. Just appreciating the bed where you’re starting and ending the day can be something to add to your initial list. Sometimes merely recognizing a tiny blessing can have a significant impact.
Add It On
A helpful method for remembering your new gratitude habit is to add it on to your existing routine. Whatever you usually do in the morning and night, be sure to include a few minutes to think of what makes you feel fortunate. For example, if you have tea every morning, this would be a good connection to make. Sitting down to tea will soon become a reminder to contemplate on your three things.
Create Visual Reminders
If you find yourself forgetting to do it or skipping out on your new task, add some visual cues to your environment. Post-it notes are great for this. Stick one on your nightstand. Add another to your bathroom mirror. Technology comes in handy for reminders, as well. Set the alarm on your phone so that you don’t leave the house or fall asleep without taking time to consider what makes you feel thankful.
Turn It Around
You can also try the opposite. Turn complaints around into something positive. Maybe you wake up with a sore back and don’t want to get out of bed. It may seem obvious, but reminding yourself that you’re in overall good health and that you have a safe place to sleep can do wonders for your outlook. Try to find the silver lining. It really works.
A good habit can be jotting things down during the day as they happen. It only takes a few seconds to make a note of what you feel grateful for in that moment. You can reflect on it later during your quiet bedtime routine.
Hopefully, you now see how getting into the habit of recognizing the good things in life really isn’t all that difficult. A few small changes to your routine, and you’ll find it’s actually quite easy to implement this practice.
I’d like to say a great big THANK YOU for your support during this book launch process for Catching Your Breath. This has been an extremely successful release and I am HONORED by your enthusiasm and encouragement. This book is the #1 New Release in the Psychology & Religion category on Amazon!
I wanted to make sure you know about the following free resources:
Stressed out? We’ve all been there. In this stress managemetn crash course, I’m going to show you the 6 proven ways to calm down, but first, do you know the 3 biggest mistakes you can make when stressed out? Watch thie video below to learn more.
One day a couple of years ago, I was barely holding it together. I’d been stressed out for two days. Medical concerns, marriage struggles, and financial woes left me drowning underneath an ocean of shame and guilt.
I had tossed and turned the night before, checking the clock at 11:45, 12:15, and every half-hour that followed. To add insult to injury, after drinking coffee for fifteen years, my doctor said it was making my anxiety worse. At my last visit, my blood pressure was higher than it had ever been in my life. As a result, I had been off coffee for a month. I was anything but happy about it. The frustration and uncertainty piled up, and on a particularly overwhelming day at work, it all came toppling down.
I wanted to see my wife. I considered calling my Mom. I wanted to text a couple of different friends. But I was ashamed. When I am having a hard day, my inner-critic loves to tell me how crazy and weak I am. That I’m a burden, unworthy of love.
Have you ever been done wrong? Have you ever wanted the person who did you wrong to suffer? Have you ever wanted justice? Have you ever disagreed with someone so strongly that your disagreement turned to hatred? Have you ever tried to get as far away from God as possible?
If so, keep reading.
STRANGER IN A FOREIGN LAND
I’ve been traveling the past ten days. I spent the second half of my trip in Indiana. Apparently, if it’s your first time in the Hoosier State, you have to try the tenderloin sandwich – a local tradition.
Last Saturday, I was having lunch with a bunch of locals. This was the third time I had been told to get the tenderloin sandwich. Three different restaurants, three different sets of friends, three separate days. And all of them said the same thing, “Dude – you have to try the tenderloin sandwich.”
The server overheard our discussion, snarled up his face, and looked at me like I had two heads when he found out I had never had a tenderloin sandwich.
One of my friends begrudgingly piped up in a sort of disgusted tone, “He’s from Alabama” (and everyone at the table rolled their eyes).
“Ah,” the server said, still looking at me with judgmental eyes. It all seemed to make sense now.
You know Jonah, the prophet of God, the dude who spent a few days in the belly of a massive fish?
But what if this story isn’t about a dude and a big fish?
Rob Bell basically says it’s more about God’s unconditional love having the power to so profoundly transform me, empowering me to love others more fully – yes, even those who have wounded me; even the people with whom I disagree entirely.
Better than that, the redeeming love (the messy grace) of God allows me to accept and embrace myself.
EVEN IF I LAY DOWN IN HELL
Let’s recap the story: God tells Jonah to travel to Nineveh, a city known for its total disregard for the ways of God. Jonah is to convince the people to repent and turn back to God. Otherwise, they’re going to be destroyed.
But Jonah is bitter and angry and wants the people of Nineveh to get what they deserve: total annihilation. So, he ignores the call of God and boards a boat to get as far away from Nineveh as possible.
A storm comes up. The sailors and fishermen start freaking out. They draw straws to try and figure out who is the cause of the chaos. And the lot falls on Jonah.
The interrogation begins. The others on the boat ask Jonah who he is, where he is from, what family he belongs to, what does he do for a living, and why he is on the ship.
I read this story last week for the first time in a very long time, and I was struck by Jonah’s bizarre response to the sailors’ inquisition. In the midst of the ship rocking back and forth, plus the intense frustration of the others on the boat, Jonah gives them a response that seems entirely out of place, “I am a Hebrew.”
Who cares?! The boat is about to go under, and you’re telling me you’re a Jew?? Who cares?!
“You’ve never had a tenderloin sandwich?!”
“Oh, he’s from Alabama.”
“I’m a Hebrew.”
Are you tracking yet?
Yea. I wasn’t either.
Jonah’s response of, “I’m a Hebrew” doesn’t make sense to me until I Google “Jews and Jonah.”
During Jonah’s time, there was a commonly held belief that there were territorial gods or deities. There were also certain (more desolate) places, where there was not a local deity. The ocean was one of those “no man’s land” areas where no local deity reigned, and people believed they could do whatever they wanted.
So it makes sense that even Jonah, when running from God, would naturally board a boat. No man’s land. He thinks he can do as he pleases.
Until the storm hits.
Everything is coming apart at the seams, and Jonah seems lost in thought. The way I read this story, Jonah wasn’t even answering their questions directly. It’s like the realization was hitting him at the same time.
“I’m a Hebrew,” he thinks aloud.
In other words, my God has no boundaries.
I’m a Hebrew: my God isn’t limited by your territories.
Remember when Moses went to Pharoah, demanding the release of his people? He says, “The God of the Hebrews has sent us.”
In other words, the God who isn’t bound by your laws or prisons or punishment – the God that is above all your little territorial imps – that God demands you release His children immediately.
I’m a Hebrew.
The winds are beating the ship to a pulp. The waves are slamming against the wooden planks. Rain is pouring down, and thunder is shaking them at their core. Jonah tells the others to throw him overboard, into the sea. If they just throw him overboard, everything will calm down, and the sailors will be safe.
I wonder what Jonah really meant.
During the worst days of my life, in the two weeks leading up to my suicide attempt, I was begging someone to just throw me overboard. I felt like a burden to my family. I believed I had disappointed God. I thought no one would believe my story – or even care.
“Just throw me overboard!”
Jonah had to be pretty frustrated when the fishermen ignored his cries and started to row harder and faster, praying to their own local gods.
Because that didn’t fix anything.
Alas, they throw the Hebrew into the churning sea.
Can you imagine all the thoughts Jonah faces while in the belly of a fish?
“I’m not dead. I’m just sort of in this really smelly holding place. Why aren’t you killing me, God?! Just let me drown. I can’t see anything down here. This is my worst-case scenario.”
THE MOST HONEST PRAYER I’VE EVER PRAYED
Look back at Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the whale. It’s the desperate prayer of someone literally at the end of their rope.
Can you tell somebody what the end of the rope looks like? I’ve been there.
For me, it was being rolled down the hall from an ICU room, down to the elevator, to the belly of the hospital. I remember the sound of those giant metal doors latching shut behind me, as the orderly rolled me into the psych ward.
As the doors slammed shut, I prayed the most honest prayer I’ve ever prayed, “God? If you’re there, please help me.”
Whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not. We all know what it’s like to feel like we’re drowning.
Stressed to the max.
Wondering if God has finally given up on us.
At some point, most of us have probably run from what we know is our best self. Or some difficult conversation. We’ve all made poor decisions and not lived from our heart-center. We’ve faced the consequences and the fallout, and we’ve probably regretted it.
I’M A HEBREW
This isn’t a story about a big fish. It’s a story about mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Jonah couldn’t forgive those he viewed as “sinners” until he learned his own lesson about his need for mercy and grace.
This story is about Hope. It’s a story about redemption and restorative justice. It’s one about love – which is the most divine experience we can have.
Jonah must have thought he was really something special; better than everyone else. Jonah believed he had it all figured out. I’ve been there. I remember hating, or at least having no compassion, for those I viewed as a “sinner.”
It took Jonah reaching rock bottom before he could ever see his own need for mercy and forgiveness. The whole experience was about finding compassion for “the other,” and discovering that we are all “the other.”
It was the same way for me, after being released from the psych ward. Sitting with others at the lowest points of their lives gave me more love, compassion, and understanding than I’d ever found in a lifetime of trying to do all the right things.
It’s been six years since the lowest point of my life, but in the past few weeks, I’ve deeply struggled with inner-hatred. The Kavanaugh hearing, the confession of Dr. Ford, and Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States disappointed me, triggered memories of my own abuse, felt like it diminished my own painful experience (plus countless others), and sent me into a tailspin of anger and hatred.
I lashed out on social media. I was boiling on the inside. And I was perfectly fine with God bulldozing Washington and starting over.
But I’m a Hebrew. As such, it’s my job to live my life in such a way that unboxes things like Divine Love and grace and hope. Compassion and mercy can’t be rationed out, only to those I deem worthy.
I’m a Hebrew. And it’s time I start recognizing the dignity of all humans, even when it isn’t easy. Initially, Jonah refused to preach to a group of people he hated. I’ve been there. And I was wrong.
There is no transgression so heinous and no wound so deep that Love cannot transform. And the only way the world will ever experience that kind of Love is if we allow it to flow through us into every interaction we have in-person & online.
We cannot live our lives full of hatred and expect anyone to believe we are children of God.
Whether it’s an entire city or just the stubborn heart of someone like Jonah, the Good news is this: Love is the antidote to fear. Love combats the illusion of separateness. Love is a reminder that everyone belongs, even when it seems like life is falling apart.
*Originally preached at Red Door Church (Bloomington, Indiana), October 7, 2018.
Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.
They say that hell smells like burning sulfur. To me, it smelled like the Extended Stay hotel in Huntsville, Alabama.
I was working on an out-out-town interpreting assignment for a couple of weeks. I had gone home for the weekend, and when I pulled out of the driveway that Sunday night to head back to work, I knew I’d never see my wife and little boy again.
Six years ago today, I was supposed to be dead. (At least that was my plan.) It was a surreal week. I guess planning to die is like that: nearly every conversation that week felt like an out-of-body experience. It was as if my body was working, independent of my traumatized mind.
I worked each day. And then I would return to the hotel where I was staying, to be tormented by my own thoughts and mental illness. It was the darkest week of my life. I imagine feeling something like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, being pressed like an olive into oil.
I had made some stupid mistakes. Hurt some people. Lost a job. And my personal failures, combined with untreated trauma and shame and fear of never being enough, never being believed, and no one caring – sent me into a tailspin. I was in a fog of depression, spun up wildly by anxiety, and shame was corroding my guts from the inside.
And yet, I’m not dead. I’m still here. For some reason, God wasn’t finished with me. Messy Grace wouldn’t let me go.
I am Not Alone (Neither are You)
One thing I’ve learned over the past six years of recovering from the worst day of my life is this: I am not alone. Countless people are overwhelmed, suffering the shameful lashings of their past, holding onto gut-wrenching memories, unable to catch their breath in a world that tells them just to keep pushing. If the pressure of fear, pain, anxiety, and anger simmer and grow, sooner or later they’re going to explode.
The latest CDC statistics on suicide are staggering. In my home state of Alabama, from 1999-2016, the suicide rate increased by 21.9%. In 2016 alone, 142,000 people died of “diseases of despair” (which include alcohol and drug abuse, plus suicide). According to the CDC, “rates increased in nearly all states,” ranging “from just under 6 percent in Delaware to over 57 percent in North Dakota. Twenty-five states had suicide rate increases of more than 30 percent.”
We have lost bright lights to suicide. People like Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chester Bennington, Amy Bleuel, and Pastor Andrew Stoecklein have all succumbed to this kind of unimaginable suffering. And please don’t forget the recent death of nine-year-old, Jamel Myles.
Despair is no respecter of persons. Mental illness isn’t intimidated by your pedigree, faith, or future plans. The treachery of hopelessness, the stigma of depression, and the sharp pain that lies to us, convincing us that suicide is the only answer; these things don’t just rob us of celebrities and heroes. Suicide killed my aunt when I was fourteen and murdered a friend of mine when we were only children, leaving his twelve-year-old body hanging lifeless in his bedroom closet.
When we got the news about my aunt, I’ll never forget the way my Mom screamed, “My sister!” as she dropped the grey receiver and it swung out and slammed back against the kitchen wall. In the immediate aftermath of her suicide, the days crawled by, but her funeral sticks out clearly in my memory. The hushed words of church people are what I can’t seem to shake. The ones who believed suicide was no different than murder, “in the eyes of God.”
It would be another fifteen years before I contemplated my own death, but the under-the-breath comments of church people stuck with me like glue. I was convinced that if I had gone to the church with my pain, I would have been called “demon possessed,” or told I lacked faith. The churches I grew up in liked easy fixes. They don’t typically do well with messes that require more than a simple prayer of faith. If it can’t be cleaned up in one “altar call,” no thanks.
After I woke up in an ICU hospital room, my wife helped me realize that Jesus can save your soul, but counseling could save your life. These days, Lindsey continues to call out my toxic theology and harmful self-image. In sickness and in health, ya know?
Living with Anxiety
I feel the healthiest I’ve ever been. But no matter what treatment plans I’ve followed, anxiety remains my constant companion, like it or not. Living with anxiety means secretly rejoicing when other people have their own problems to talk about, so you don’t have to share your own. You hide, silently isolated, pretending to care about the struggles of the whole world, as long as you can remain anonymous in your own suffering. It means you sometimes smile at a friend, wishing they knew you’re dying on the inside, and equally thankful they’re unaware.
Anxiety doesn’t only hit on the side of the road. Sometimes it strikes during happy hour with your friends, or at the exact moment your co-workers are laughing at an apparently hilarious joke. Anxiety is crying in your car after dropping off the kids at school or in your shower, so no one hears your sobs.
For someone living with anxiety, it is a daily battle just to change out of your pajamas, stand at the front door, peer out the window and wait for just the right moment when no one else is in sight, so you can pick up the package from UPS and not have to interact with another human being. Sometimes it means taking your kid to school, so you don’t have to make small talk with other adults at the bus stop.
Living with anxiety means living with the constant fear that you’ll feel this way for the rest of your life. You look in the mirror and, as much as you want others to see you as a person, all you can see is your own misery. Your diminished self-worth is based on the fact that you not only feel crazy, but believe you are insane.
Living with anxiety is stressful. People who know your diagnosis ask how you’re doing and you nearly have a panic attack because you don’t know how to adequately explain something you don’t even understand yourself. It’s exhausting fighting with your own head. Living with anxiety is one of the most courageous things a person can do. Your mind writes a story that would make any “normal” person weep, but you live with it every moment of every day because you know the only other alternative is a far less-happy ending.
I know, because I’ve been there. I’ve been consumed with shame and bogged down by depression. I’ve been spun-up by anxiety and thrown into the wall by PTSD. I know what it’s like to rest the Bible in my lap in a hotel room while writing “goodbye letters” to all my closest people.
When loneliness mixes with mental illness, shame, and a generalized sense of hopelessness, it’s a cocktail that can destroy everything. Most importantly, it can ruin you. I know what it’s like to think it would be better to die than to face tomorrow. I’ve walked through that living hell.
And I’ve faced tomorrow. And tomorrow isn’t always more comfortable. The sun doesn’t always come out right away. Things don’t always miraculously change and improve overnight. But with the right resources, professional support, and self-care, the sun will come out eventually, or you’ll learn to dance in the rain. Things do get better, bit by bit.
When the Church Gets it Wrong
I sang my first solo in the Christmas play at church when I was only five. I served as a youth leader in my local church all through high school. In my twenties, I attended two years of ministry school. And yet, at the age of twenty-nine, when I tried to die, I didn’t ask for help from the church where I worked. I had seen how the church treats people who just can’t seem to get it together. I didn’t want any more of their pious glances, toxic theology, or frustrated prayers.
This is the reason I am open about my story and why I encourage others too. Sharing my story always carries with it a bit of necessary weight, but I refuse to remain silent any longer, as people fall victim to the lie that there is no hope or help. When we own our stories, we take back the power of shame and stigma. Each time we expose darkness to the light, everyone wins.
The world is full of overwhelmed people who are just trying to fake it till we make it. The church is, too. I wore the mask of performance and perfection for many years. But honesty and vulnerability have brought a new kind of strength, healing, and energy to my life. I don’t ever want to go back. Maybe we can fake it till we make it, but it’s a rotten way to live. And really, is it even living?
I am walking into the seventh year of recovery from a suicide attempt. In my Christian tradition, seven is a very sacred number. Creation is said to have been completed in seven days. The Abrahamic blessing is a seven-fold blessing. Life happens in seven-year cycles. There are seven parables of Matthew and seven mysteries. Seven bones in your face. Seven is the number of completeness and celebration.
So as we enter this year of completeness, we won’t back down.
We won’t look away.
We refuse to ignore suffering.
We will love our neighbors – especially the messy ones.
Most of all, we will love ourselves.
We are not giving up.
If you’re reading this and you love Jesus with all your heart, but life just plain sucks, I’m sorry. Please know you’re not alone. It will get better. I promise. Please don’t give up. Don’t leave. This will get better. I don’t know how or when, but I have lived through enough to know that hard days don’t last forever. I know that hard days can seem unthinkable at times, but in my experience, they come and go, just like the tides.
So hold on. And let go of all the things that are weighing you down. If it feels like your ship is sinking, throw all the excess cargo overboard and hold on. Hold onto these words. Hold onto hope. Hold onto memories of better days. They will come again.
Bio: Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.
Steve is also the author of two Amazon bestsellers: From Pastor to a Psych Ward and Catching your Breath. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Lindsey, and their two children. Visit iamsteveaustin.com today to download a free copy of From Pastor to a Psych Ward.
Alabama is known for tornadoes. Without fail, after a storm, the news crews will interview the toothless guy with tobacco in his lip, wearing a wife beater. And what does he always say?
“IT SOUNDED LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN!”
It’s funny to watch the rednecks on the news, but they’re not wrong.
As the storm is passing over you, the rumbling destruction can sound a lot like a nearby train. But when I was just a little boy, during the worst of tornado season, just before the winds tore down three giant oak trees in our yard, as my mom and dad and I hunkered down underneath my parents mattress one night, I was struck by how quiet it seemed, just before the storm hit.
EVERYONE WANTS A HAPPY ENDING
I wrote a book about the day I woke up in an ICU hospital room, after nearly dying by suicide. September 21st: I talk about it all the time. The liver issues, being numb from the waist down. I speak about it. I tell my story on blogs and podcasts. The day I woke up – I share that story often.
People love the mystical experience of God whispering, “I’m not finished with you yet.”
But we rarely talk about the day I decided to die; the day I said I can’t do this anymore. I can’t fake it. I can’t drag my family through what I thought was about to come. I can’t go on.
We don’t talk about September 20th often enough.
We need to talk about the day you reach rock bottom and believe there is no hope. We need to keep talking about the day that convinces you this will never get better, and it will only get worse. We cannot brush past the song of shame, “Nobody cares. Nobody loves you. Nobody will believe you. Nobody believes in you.”
On the day you decide to die, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married or how many kids you have. Nobody cares about their career path or pedigree on the day they give up. Scripture memory, accolades, and community involvement aren’t at the front of your mind on your darkest day ever.
None of that matters anymore.
September 20, 2012: I’d been married five years. My little boy would be turning a year old on September 22nd. I grew up in the church. I had worked in the church for five years at this point. I was a good person. A great guy. Beloved.
And yet, I believed my only answer was suicide.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Much like the quiet few moments before the tornado, there is a false sense of calm that happens at the point when you decide to die. Up until this point, you’ve been overwhelmed by noise. The white noise of anxiety has been screaming in your ears. The black dog of depression’s been barking in your ears and nipping at your heels. But when you become determined to die, the demons shut up. They get hushed because their work is done.
It gets really quiet.
MY FAVORITE DISCIPLE
For years, I’ve wondered if it was quiet for Judas: my favorite of the Disciples of Jesus.
He threw the money back at the religious leaders’ feet and left in a shame-fueled panic. In that space between tossing the coins at their feet and going to find a rope, a tree, and hanging himself – I wonder how quiet it was? He had been tormented. He knew no one would believe him or care. He was convinced this would only get worse. This would never get better.
I wonder how quiet it was in the twilight hours between living and dying.
When I imagine Judas, I picture him as wounded man – maybe even mentally ill. A hurt, an offense, divorce, jealousy, a drinking problem, something unexpected that causes us to question everything we’ve ever known. We have a weak moment, and the emotions that have been simmering all this time suddenly begin to boil.
This picture of Judas is one that mirrors our lives when we begin to focus more on our failures than the power of second chances. I’ve heard well-meaning people say suicide is “the coward’s way out,” but they have obviously never experienced the depths of tragedy and despair. For someone to die by suicide, I believe they’re already living in Hell. From that place, condemnation to eternal judgment is nothing new. They’re already there.
The biblical account of Judas is the most moving of all the disciples for me because it highlights that he was a very flawed man. So am I. Judas genuinely loved and followed Jesus, yet he royally screwed up and we see in Scripture just how deeply he regretted his betrayal. All of this feels eerily familiar to me.
You can fight me, but I don’t think Judas is burning in Hell. I think his own personal hell was in the moments before and after he kissed Jesus on the cheek and threw those thirty tarnished pieces of silver back at the feet of the Pharisees. Judas acknowledged his own guilt and begged for things to be different. I think as the thirty pieces of silver clinked across the limestone floor of the synagogue that dark night, Judas made his peace with God, but felt he could never face his own shame in public ever again.
I have walked a mile in those same shoes.
It was quiet for me. It was dark and quiet in that hotel room with my Granddaddy’s Bible, writing letters to the people I loved – the people I was betraying.
It was quiet on September 20th. The day I gave up. The day I lost hope.
Every year on this day, I journey back to all the places that led to the darkest day of my life.
Last year, I meditated and journeyed back to the little boy in the side yard at my parent’s home. It was right after I had been abused. I was tiny, shocked, and shakily scared. That’s where it starts for me.
The worst day of my life doesn’t start with losing my job at 28. My experience with trauma and hopelessness doesn’t begin with my first panic attack in high school. This journey didn’t even start by getting hooked on porn at 12. For me, it starts when I was raped at the age of four.
In my meditation, I traveled back there and asked that little boy for forgiveness. I apologized for giving up on him. For believing he was hopeless. I held him close and told him how much I loved him. How sorry I was. I embraced that innocent little boy and said to him that he made it. That he’s okay. I had to tell him that life gets better.
Not overnight. But, life does get better.
So if you’re reading this and you think things may never get better, in my experience, that’s not true. In fairness, I don’t know when or how it will get better – I know it’s likely not by the snapping of Jesus’ cosmic fingers – but it will get better.
This day every year, I have to forgive myself for nearly abandoning my family. I didn’t think I had any other option. I thought I was doing them a favor.
Forgiveness isn’t a one time process. When it is something deeply traumatic, cutting to the core of your identity, you remember.
DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME
I remember. And I need to remember. I need to be reminded that there was a day in my life six years ago when I gave up. When I lost hope.
Things were scary as hell for me. But through a long, patient, arduous process of getting really honest – digging through the most difficult, awful, nasty, uncomfortable, terrible things – through prayer, counseling, medication, and meditation – things have gotten better.
Much, much better.
But I had to forgive myself. And I forgive myself every year on this day.
I remember the little boy who was broken in the side yard.
I remember the images no child should have burned into his brain.
I remember wanting to die.
I remember begging God to take me.
I remember praying for cancer.
I remember the bridges and overpasses.
I remember the pain and shame and fear.
I remember, but I don’t live there.
I can’t stay there.
Those things happened.
I call them by name and acknowledge them.
But I can’t set up camp and stay there.
And I forgive.
The wrong choices I made.
The pain others caused.
And I choose.
I choose to move forward.
I choose to accept messy grace.
I refuse to allow the worst day of my life to define the rest of my life.
Judas lost all hope. So did I. He went outside the city, threw a rope over a big tree branch, wrapped a noose around his neck, and died by suicide. My first attempt was a leather belt, wrapped around a flimsy shower rod in a hotel bathroom. I wonder if the last sounds Judas heard, before his neck snapped and he died, was his friend and teacher, dying on another tree. Dying to give us hope. The One dying for Judas and for me.
I have been changed forever by my trauma, but I won’t allow those things to rule me for the rest of my life. I will be more kind, gracious, and compassionate. I won’t live with shame. I choose not to live with the uncontrollable guilt. I still believe in the God who makes all things new.
Six years after the day I decided to die, I can tell you that life is worth living, but you have to forgive others and yourself. You have to choose to see God in your worst moment and in the face of your worst enemy. There is enough grace in each day to bind your wounds, heal your heart, and lift you to a new place. You don’t have to forget, but you must forgive.
Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.
I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide. But wanting to die didn’t happen overnight.
In fact, I was first introduced to shame when I was just a preschooler. Recovery from childhood sexual abuse didn’t even begin until after I woke up in an ICU hospital room, after I tried to die by suicide.
It was my honor to share my story with a brand-new podcast, “Instructions for Living a Life.” If you’re tired of living, or love someone who struggles with their own mental health, I strongly encourage you to listen to my conversation with Chrisie and Adam.