(Originally posted on 12/12/10)
Life is truly a messy thing. There are those days when everything is right. You could easily be driving on an open road with the top down in a world that is yours under a sky that seems to open up all around you. But, sometimes it seems like you are downtown in traffic during rush hour...late...again. Sometimes, it feels like a cold Winter day, with gray skies overhead and a chill that smacks you in the face. Yea, life is definitely messy.
Justin knows this well. He and his wife were on their way to the doctor's office for a check-up. His wife was several months into her first pregnancy,nearly ready to make that final trip to the hospital. The young couple was excited. Then, out of nowhere, the crushing force of a speeding car collided with the passenger's side of their car. A few moments later, Justin snapped out of his daze and looked over to see his wife unconscious and trapped. She was bleeding. She was not waking up. But, he couldn't help her. He felt completely helpless and alone. All he knew to do was hope and pray and scream. In that moment, Justin, for the first time in his life knew what it means to need a rescue.
A few days ago, a longtime friend stopped by work to see me. She and I have seen a lot together. She works in the business of mental health like me. We help people. That's what we do. We try to get people to understand they have to talk sometimes. They have to reach out and accept help when they need it. Yet, we are not always so good at following our own advice. However, she and I have that trust. So, the other day I listened as she shared about the stress and struggles she has faced lately. In turn, I opened up a little and told of similar things in my own life. It was good. She needed a small rescue. I needed to be there.
About two years ago, I was driving in a storm. I wrapped my car around a telephone pole driving through an alley. That wasn't fun! I got out relatively unscathed (Thank God for Volvo...It may be the safest car in the world). The body of the car was ok, but the axle was torn in half. The car was totaled. So, a few days later, I was waiting at a McDonald's in downtown Nashville for my buddy to pick me up and take me to buy a car. It was a really crappy day. It was January, cold and miserable. It's funny how when you're in the middle of something like that, you start over-analyzing your life. At least I do. That day it went something like this: "Man, I'm just not where I wanted to be. I don't have everything I thought I would. I've been in and out of the hospital too many times with this stupid neurological illness. I'm tired of treatment and medication. I've had too many bad relationships" On and on. Then, in the middle of my self analysis (pity party), I was interrupted. A young man came up to me and asked. "Mr. Matt? Are you Mr. Matt?" I answered "yes" while faking a smile. He looked vaguely familiar. He continued, "I was at the group home when you ran it. I'm __________. Do you remember me?" I did ( I was the program director of a group home in the 90's). I had tried very hard to help this kid. We had given him care and compassion, and structure and love. But, ultimately we had to kick him out of the program. I thought "Uh oh, here it is. I'm going to be killed in a McDonald's. What a really crappy end to a crappy week!" Then he said, with a smile, "You kicked me out. You don't know this. But, you saved my life. You guys cared about me. Nobody else did. I have a wife and kid now. I have a job. I'm not gonna do what my parents did. I'm gonna be a good dad. Thanks for all you did...and for kicking me out. I learned." I told him I was proud of him. That seemed to be important to him. Then he left. All I could do was thank God. That kid might think I rescued him; but he returned the favor that day.
We all need rescuing sometimes.
But, not many of us are willing to let go. Not many of us will ask. We have to realize that, yes, rescues sometimes show up out of the blue; but most of the time, they don't. How is anyone supposed to know we need help if we hide behind our busy schedules, parties, work, or fake smiles? Asking for help or just an empathetic ear is not weakness. Every once in a while, we have to send up a white flag to signal our need.
On the other side of that is the truth that we need to watch and listen-really listen-to those around us. This past week a young man laid down on train tracks in front of an elementary school and gave up his life. He attended a school in a county where I do some work. People have had comments and questions about it this week. "Why did he do it?" "I knew him. He was happy." I can't really answer those questions. But, I can say, listen. Listen to those you love. And, if it's you in need, send up the flag. I was facilitating a weekly recovery group the other day. The kids were talking about the boy who took his life. I took a moment and asked how many of them had experienced suicidal ideations in the last 6 months. Every one of them raised their hand. Every one.
People are in need of rescue.
Rescue isn't easy. It doesn't always go smoothly. It doesn't always feel good.
Sometimes you need to be drowning to come back to life ( I think that's why I find beauty in the ritual of baptism). At times, you have to be helpless to be helped; hopeless to find hope; hurting to find healing; broken to be fixed; abandoned to be found; lonely to be loved; and completely surrendered to be rescued.
Be prepared, no matter which side of the fence you are standing on, to act when the time comes. And, if necessary, send up the white flag. Someone will see.
*Justin and his wife welcomed a beautiful baby girl into their lives shortly after the accident. Mom and baby...and Justin are fine. Oh, and I got another car.