“You are never at any time nearer to God
than when under tribulation,
which He permits for the purification
of your soul.”
— Miguel De Molinos
June 8, 2012 (Timothy Williams, New York Times): “The suicide rate among the nation’s active-duty military personnel has spiked this year, eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle and on pace to set a record annual high since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago, the Pentagon said Friday.”
Other news reports have claimed that the following month, another 38 were added to the numbers of those who took their own lives while on active duty. It’s a grim number that’s being dealt with on the highest levels. Those at the top of the authority pyramid have added counselors and chaplains. They’ve set aside September as “Suicide Prevention Month.” But what can they really do to stop soldiers from choosing to take a permanent leave of absence?
I understand the emotions behind all of that, because I’ve experienced a similar deep sadness and desperation. Of course, my situation wasn’t anything at all like that of a soldier in combat. But I do know that the Holy Spirit can strengthen a person’s will to survive, and He can make use of desperate situations in the most profound and unexpected ways.
I have a friend who can attest to that. His name is Frank Gamillo, and he and I have discovered that we have a number of life experiences in common. In 2011, we realized that we went through elementary school together and were actually in the same fourth grade class. We graduated from the same high school and stayed close to home after that.
In 1994, both of us experienced health issues that changed life as we knew it. For me it was the onset of fibromyalgia. For Frank, it was a serious, construction-related injury that irreparably damaged his spine.
Each of us, unbeknownst to the other, had to learn how to cope with physical, emotional, and psychological pain. We have both dealt with severe depression … and have contemplated suicide. And we’ve petitioned our God with requests for healing and haunting questions, like “why me?” and “what will the future look like?”
In 2003, in the midst of continuous physical pain, I had to restructure my life for the sake of loved ones. At that time, Frank was still hopping from one specialist to another and enduring surgeries to try and repair torn disks and disintegrating bone in his spine. And when it seemed as though there was not much to live for, each of us withdrew from fellowship with people who wanted to understand and offer support.
The two of us ended up moving into different houses at the insistence of our spouses. It took several years to adjust and eventually make personal discoveries that God had placed us in those homes for specific reasons. It took some time, but we finally figured out that He had been listening all along to our pleas for help.
For me, that help came in the form of a letter from a cousin I had grown up with, but who I had not seen in many years. Pam sent me an article she had cut out of her local newspaper in Fayetteville, Arkansas about a new drug that seemed to be helping victims of a mysterious illness called fibromyalgia. I began taking Lyrica shortly after that and, despite a few annoying side effects, I started feeling as though I had been given my life back.
Frank told me about a moment that he remembers when he felt the Holy Spirit take away the depression that Satan had used as leverage against him. And then, in 2008, something amazing happened. His wife, Maggie, suddenly had an idea to help her husband restore relationships that had been lost over time. She planned a gathering at their home, with the assistance of their friend Marcia, and invited people who might like to come together and help distract Frank from dwelling on his physical pain. To her surprise, over 60 people showed up! And as everyone was leaving, they expressed a desire to “do it again next year!”
In spring of 2009, Maggie and Frank planned a high school reunion party. Marcia offered to have it at her house, and she recruited a couple of live bands to play music from the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Frank pulled together the guest list and decided they should celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Woodstock” – the famous, pop culture music event that took place on a New York farm in 1969. After the reunion, word got out and more alumni wanted to know when the next event was going to be.
A long-time friend named Steph suggested that Frank join Facebook to get out information about a future event. And in spring 2010, Woodstock II took place in a large grassy area with an entertainment stage, on property owned by a local steam engine museum. Over 600 people attended!
Around the same when time Steph signed Frank up for Facebook, my daughter Lisa opened a Facebook account in my name. And since I’d started taking Lyrica and was feeling more energetic, I quickly became addicted to finding and communicating with friends from my past, acquiring new ones along the way. As Frank was establishing his site for “Woodstock Summer Jam,” I decided to set up a site to contact friends from my high school drill team days. And over the course of a few months, Frank and I somehow met in the middle!
In 2011, I planned a drill team (my passion during high school) reunion at my house for the day after Frank’s Woodstock III event. Emails started pouring in from folks who lived in various states across the nation. Some wanted to come out for BOTH events!
Even more amazing was the fact that our Lord provided both Frank and myself with strength and loads of adrenaline to accomplish something we would have sworn – just a few years earlier – that we would never be able to do.
Maybe the military should rethink their “Suicide Prevention Month.” Replacing it with something like “Survivor Celebration Week” might encourage gatherings across the country to promote desire in weary warriors to keep on living and striving, in spite of – and in the midst of – physical, emotional and psychological pain.
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me….
You are familiar with all my ways.”
A RUST REMOVER …
The apostle Paul wrote about a mystery of enduring hope for everyone who believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again as He promised. Paul spoke of a moment in time when we will be caught up together “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with Him forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). He closed with this admonition: “Encourage each other with these words.”
Pray that the Spirit will remind you of someone who could use encouragement. Give that person a call, send them an email or a hand-written note to let them know they are not alone. And there is hope.