An End, Some Means, No Need

I’ve only ever gotten very close to suicide once. I’ve thought about it more than once, mainly because the one time I got close made it a spiritual issue [as if it’s not], and, well, I believe in spiritual warfare. Our weaknesses are exploited by the one who tempts.

This is one of mine, I guess.

The closest I came was in October of 1996. It was my senior year of high school. I knew where I’d be going to college [and I really did–I graduated five years later, having never changed my major]. I was in all the classes that I wanted to be. Things were going good.

Then they weren’t. I can’t even remember what it all was, but I know that two seminal events kicked it: the death of our longtime family pet, Buttons [hey, it was my brother who named her, not me!], and the death of a high school friend in a car accident. Those two events happened within, oh, a couple weeks of each other, and for whatever reason, they sent me into a spiral.

I did the typical “What is my place in this world, and where do I find strength?” bit. Of course, the funny thing is that my time at MSMS saw me go away from church almost completely, mainly in a desire to get some sleep sometime. One could draw some parallels to my recent situation, and I think they’d be fair.

I mean, what life is worth living if Christ is not in it?

Anyhow.

I have been listening lately to Over the Rhine a lot lately, if you haven’t noticed. After finally getting enough of a deep drink of Ohio to last me for a while, I finally delved into Good Dog, Bad Dog. It’s also just excellent.

Sonically, I quickly fell in love with “Poughkeepsie”. Then, this morning, I read the lyrics.

Poughkeepsie

I thought I’d go up Poughkeepsie,
look out o’er the Hudson,
and I’d throw my body down on the river.
And I’d know no more sorrow,
I’d fly like the sparrow
and I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I’d take to the sky with all my might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’d just ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

There are those who know sorrow
and those who must borrow
and those whose lot in life is sweet.
Well I’m drunk on self-pity,
scorned all that’s been given me,
I would drink from a bottle labeled Sure Defeat.

I’d ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I’d take to the sky with all my might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’d just ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

Then the skies, they fell open
and my eyes were opened
to a world of hope falling at my feet.
Now I’ve no more or less
than anyone else has,
what I have is a gift of life I can’t repeat.

So I go up Poughkeepsie,
look out o’er the Hudson
and I cast my worries to the sky.
Now I still know sorrow,
but I can fly like the sparrow
’cause I ride on the backs of the angels tonight.

I ride on the backs of the angels tonight.
I take to the sky with all their might.
No more drowning in my sorrow,
no more drowning in my fright,
I’ll just ride on the backs of the angels each night.

That says it all. I am not drowning. I might just be treading water, but it’s not drowning. Not at all.

A Hallelujah Chorus

Today, I made it to church. Unlike so many times in the last quarter—as I think of it, I don’t think I’d attended worship services at all in my home church in 2004—I not only taught Sunday school but attended worship. Yeah, it’s pretty ludicrous to be at church on a Sunday morning and not go to worship services.

As I walked across the parking lot from the Disciple Center to the main church building, I began to ponder on this some, wondering where I de-railed. This is a question with a two-part answer. One part of the answer goes back to 2001, when Mom had just had her stroke and I spent many a weekend in that fall in Tennessee. Sunday mornings were often spent at the hospital, and then I’d come back that afternoon because I’d need to be there for UMYF that night. That, or I would have school stuff that took precedence over more time with Mom and time at church.

At that point, I started to strip my church experience down to my service, which I felt compelled to do, and worship, which I didn’t feel compelled to do. That’s silly; corporate worship is pretty clearly laid out as a solid part of the faith in the Bible, and it’s not as if the UMC chooses not to affirm it.

Anyhow, I guess that’s where I got into the habit of not going, or at least not seeing it as a big thing. Before, if school had me too busy or something and I’d miss, I’d get a phone call from church. Yeah, they actually check the attendance at Aldersgate, and if you miss a bunch, they call—not as a guilt trip, but to find out if something’s wrong. Has your job changed? Are you sick? Is someone in your family sick? Have you just fallen away? Wesleyan theology discounts the Calvinist notion of perseverance of the saints, so we do try to help each other muddle through. Presence is important.

As for where else I’ve gotten away from church, I guess the hockey trips I took last season got me out of the habit as well. Sunday was often our travel day, leaving as we would on Saturday night after the game to start traveling home. I often made it to youth on Sunday night, but I routinely missed morning worship.

Some small part of me wants to toss this at the feet of the church and ask, “Why have you not called to ask about me?” That silly part of me is working under the false pretense that this is their job or obligation, which is wrong. It’s their choice as well as a vocational ministry. To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re doing that anymore; perhaps I’m off the list because it was understood that my schedule was kinda wacky.

Either way, somewhere in the midst of all that, I got the silly-ass notion in my head that equated corporate worship with practicing a musical instrument. Where that came into the picture, I don’t know … but it did. :shrug: I really began to see it as some wacky obligation that wasn’t necessary to being a good Christian or a good person. Did I need to be there?

I think this was slightly compounded by the fact that the chancel choir really wants me to be a part of their number; they want me to be an active part of their part of worship because I have God-given talent. Okay, I guess … but what if I just want to absorb it all for a while? Rather than confront the situation, I guess I ducked it.

If I wasn’t in our traditional worship services, our contemporary service would still want me there, serving my butt off. Video, audio, greeting, maybe some occasional vocals … something. The ego appreciated the offering, but … just not sure it was for me.

It was quite interesting to go over to church today; one of my co-workers, Dave, was greeting churchgoers at the door, along with his wife. Funny how I can’t ever seem to get away from work?

So I found myself in a pew today with Lynn. Lynn’s probably in her late 50’s; she had her granddaughters with her today. Lynn’s husband “doesn’t do church”, best as I know, so I often get paired up with her for the things I do at church [including service of communion]. Lynn’s also a tenor, and in the times I’ve been a tenor in the chancel choir, I’ve sat next to her frequently. It was good to have a familiar face in the pew next to me today, one who didn’t judge with a look.

After the children went forward and then off to children’s church, Lynn left the pew, donned a choir robe, and went up to the choir. That left me alone … on the front pew … to the preacher’s right side. I hadn’t felt exposed and alone like that in a while.

It didn’t help that Larry spent about 20% of his time looking dead at me as he preached.

But I need to be exposed.

We all need exposition; we all need to know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Only with that humbling knowledge can we honestly and forthrightly accept the free grace that was purchased with the death of Christ, the resurrection of whom we celebrate on this, an Easter Sunday.

As I sat there, I realized that I’d turned into a Christmas-and-Easter Christian. The last time I’d been to a worship service was at my parents’ church before Christmas.

That simply exposed me to myself—a fraud. This nice sheen of having it all together … crushed under the weight of the truth of how far I’d slipped.

Thankfully, I’d been willing to admit that much in a prayer request slip—folded, so that only the ordained ministers will see it—that I’m struggling right now and need their support in prayer. What comes of that, I’m unsure.

But we must be broken to be made new, and I’m unconvinced that our breaking is a single event. I think it’s far more of a process–which doesn’t make me a process theologian, but does make me a pragmatist. I’m being broken here again, and this breaking is largely my own [un]doing.

You’re makin’ a mess
Somethin’ I can’t fix
This time you’re on your own

I’d make it alright
But I wouldn’t get it right
I’m leavin’ it alone

For cryin’ outloud
Cryin’ outloud
Cryin’ out
You’re cryin’ out

Yeah

You’re makin’ a mess
Is that what you do best?
Is madness just a hand-me-down?

It’s anyone’s guess
But I must confess
The performance isn’t that profound

Yeah

I’m waiting for the end
Waiting to begin again

You’re makin’ a mess
Somethin’ you can’t hide
A slow suicide
Just one bite at a time

I should love you less
But I can’t I guess
Only God can save us now

Cryin’ out

Yeah

Over the Rhine‘s “B.P.D” from Ohio

Listening to Karin sing the opening song on Ohio, it’s as if she’s singing directly to me. I’d dearly love OtR at any time in my life, but right now, it’s hitting at a great time, smacking me sonically.

I’m feeling more positive right now than I have in weeks. I can’t really pinpoint when I started being frustrated and, well, depressed about everything. The conscious mind wants to point to my grandfather’s death, but I know full well that it was before that.

I don’t know how much that matters; I seem to have figured most of the root cause, and I’ve made small steps towards ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. The temptation is to think that, in admitting it, I’ve licked it … I got a bit euphoric yesterday simply from feeling freed by having said something. I don’t want to confuse euphoria with joy, or even joy with happiness. This isn’t something to be fixed with a couple emails, a couple handwritten prayer requests, and a couple long, drawn-out ramblings on the ol’ site. Far from it.

But these are all a start … a foundation, and a reminder.

Lastly, I was reminded of the joy of singing and serving at the end of our service. The choir performed Handel’s Messiah for the Easter season, and they rightly sang the “Hallelujah Chorus” as a benediction today. In a bit of a switch, they offered to have congregation members join the choir if they felt led. For whatever reason—pride? belonging? vocation?—I went up and joined the choir. I’ve sung the Chorus a number of times, and I scarcely need the sheet music at this point. I can sing either the bass or the tenor line, and frankly, I wanted to sing both. I forced myself to settle down and sing the bass part, where I foibled only once. [I’d probably have more issues with the tenor part, mainly for its range.]

But the text had greater and richer meaning today.

He shall reign forever and ever … and that includes my life, which certainly hasn’t been lorded by the Lord of late.

Of that, I repent.

[Again, this entry was originally published as a pass-protected entry. My apologies for not publishing it openly when written; at present, I’m still worried that shouting this from the mountaintops would be counterproductive. You might be mad with me, and you probably have reason. I ask your forgiveness.]

Down

I admitted to myself on Wednesday that I was worried that I was getting depressed. I said that I left work because I had a migraine; that was neither totally true nor totally false. I did have a bitch of a headache, but it wasn’t crippling. It was getting there.

But I did realize that I needed to get away from work–right then. So, I did.

I spent Wednesday either sleeping or solemnly playing MVP Baseball 2004 while letting my mind just wander. To my knowledge, I’ve really only been depressed once–and that simply the confluence of a bunch of saddening events: my dog dying, a high school friend dying, and the frustrations of my senior year at MSMS really beginning to weigh upon me. I can’t remember whether this was before or after my ill-fated rafting trip with Rick where we spent more time in the water after wiping out than we did in the canoe. I haven’t told that story here, but it’s riotously funny if you can get past the Geof-almost-drowned bit.

Anyhow, though, Wednesday night I was wholly unable to sleep. I guess my issue was that I could not vocalize the problem. I inherently knew that I was becoming depressed, but I guess my mind was more focused on the probable causes and solutions than simply acknowledging the problem.

That’s pretty typical for me. I was an engineer before I was academically and vocationally trained to be one; seeing a problem, I’ll jump to a solution pretty quick. The problem was, frankly, that I wouldn’t admit the problem.

I spent all day Thursday mulling that, wondering how to say it, or where to say it, or what to say. I spent Thursday at home from work, again with a “migraine”. If I’d gone in at 9:00 a.m., I’d have been fine to work that day, even with the sleepless night–by then, I’d gotten enough sleep to get me through.

I came in yesterday and pretended as if nothing was wrong. It worked for a while. It stopped working around 10:30 a.m. Why, I don’t know.

I then spent 15 minutes figuring out how to say it. Post it on my site in public? No; my parents have enough to deal with right now. They are strong, and I really hate to exclude them from this, but I don’t need to send them into orbit right now. I don’t admit this readily, but they’ve both had issues with depression in their adult lives. Why I thought I’d be immune is a question I cannot well answer.

But at 10:45, I broke and sent the following email to Stephen, Misty, and Rick:

Hey guys.

I think Misty twigged to it the other night, but couldn’t say it, not in a group.

I’m worried that I’m slipping into depression.

Admitting it is what I need, even though it makes me feel weak, and I never want to feel weak.

But I can’t deny it.

I’ve been here once before, but it’s been a long time. Rick sorta knew me then, but not really.

I promise that I won’t do anything stupid, but … damn, most days I feel like I’m about to just lose it.

And I need to say that to someone, and even though y’all have enough burdens …

Love y’all.

Geof

The penultimate sentence is paramount, to my reading. I am someone who is sought out for advice. I am a source of strength to others. But where is my source of strength?

I’ll be honest and note that my own faithfulness in terms of attending worship at church and honestly working through a prayerful consideration of my own life is, well, nowhere right now. I can’t begin to tell you why it’s not, but I think that this is the root of most of my problems right now.

Yes, in admitting the problem, I’ve now stared to seek a solution. That solution is to seek out the underlying causes and deal with them on an individual basis. The next problem is pretty clear, even though I’ve not said it anywhere until now–I’m just not being faithful by works.

The United Methodist Church asks four things of its members: their prayers, their presence, their gifts, and their service. At best, I’ve been getting the last two done in my work with the church; however, I’ve not been doing well with the first two. I need to pray for my church, and to be honest, I need to have them praying for me. It is not enough to rely upon three friends, even if they are strong ones who love me deeply and are there for me when I need them.

Knowing this allows me to work on solving the problem of presence. I think that’s the easiest to solve–for without presence, I can’t ask for prayers.

Small steps. I’m already feeling myself coming out of the deep hole. It’s a slow road up, but at least it’s not going down.

[A note to the reader: this entry was originally published as a private entry on my site. At some point, I’ll make these public. Please understand that it’s been hard not to make these public, but I have my reasons for not doing so now, where now is the time of posting. In publishing these when things are better, I am not only providing a trail of my own path for others who might find themselves there, but I’m providing myself breadcrumbs as a reminder in case I get stupid and do this again.]