August 24, 2004
“Your brother is dead.” My wife could barely get the words out, “He took a shotgun and blew his head off.”
Paul’s young lifeless body lay on the cold floor of his apartment for at least a week before anyone found him. Several questions ran through my mind. Why? Wasn’t there anybody there to talk to him? And how come no one even noticed he was gone until almost eight days later?
I could feel the guilt piling on. If only I would’ve gotten to know him. If only I could’ve counseled him and assured him that his life was worth something. But the truth is, I didn’t know him. I had pictures of him growing up, but, in a weird turn of events, we had never met or talked.
I am the oldest of seven kids. Our birth mother couldn’t afford to take care of me, and so I was put up for adoption before Paul was born. One alcoholic husband and four kids later, Paul was delivered into this world. His father’s drug and alcohol abuse led to their homelessness, leaving my brothers and sister—David (9), Sharon (7), Mark (5) and Paul (2) roaming the streets and scrounging for food. When a church pastor gave their father money to buy the children dinner, the pastor followed them and discovered that their father used the money to buy more drugs instead. He bought one hamburger and made the four children split it.
It would seem that circumstances couldn’t get worse for the four of them. However, after that helpful pastor notified the department of children and families, my siblings were taken from their parents and placed in foster care. The children were split among different homes and would go from foster family to foster family where physical, verbal and mental abuse became the norm. On holidays, my grandmother would receive pictures of the children with black eyes and bruises. When the authorities raided the foster home on suspicion of abuse, they found my brother chained in the closet with a dog collar around his neck.
Again, the family would continue the path from one abusive foster home to another, as President Reagan’s plan to increase foster parenting by monetary incentives backfired, drawing vipers whose sole purpose in parenting was to increase their income. However, troubled and abused, most of the siblings would re-unite again many years later because a couple from New Jersey promised to adopt them.
Our birth mother was considered to be a borderline genius-nutcase. Most of us were born with some of her intelligence and artistic abilities. Paul was a little slower mentally, assumed primarily because of his father’s drug use. I was 8 years older than Paul, and although I had talked to all of our other brothers and sisters (including the two born after Paul), Paul and I had never met or talked. He was the baby brother that David, Sharon and Mark protected. He lived in his own world. He didn’t quite understand a lot of things, but he knew that they loved him.
So why? Why would he kill himself? He had survived a series of abuse as a child, and had just crossed the threshold into adulthood, graduating into a better life. The question probed my memory of my own childhood experiments with attempted suicide.
It was fifteen years ago and I found myself alone, very alone. I remember playing Pink Floyd’s The Wall, as the last song “Goodbye Cruel World” would be my anthem, before taking a knife and slicing my wrists. This wasn’t the first time. However, it was the first attempt that landed me in the hospital.
I remember sobbing in my room. Feelings of insecurity would cause me to cling to anyone who would provide a little stability. My grandfather, the only positive male role model in my life, had just passed away. My parents fought a lot, and my dad’s job and nightly drink outings would lead to feelings of insecurity. Often, my mother went out with friends, leaving me with a great amount of time on my own to reflect.
I saw a world filled with fighting, hate, anger, deceit, death and violence. As an artist, I was often the target of high school football bullies. I was popular at school, but somehow everything felt superficial and I felt very alone and empty. I would read the Bible and would dream of going to the heaven it describes—a place filled with God’s love and peace, a place where everyone would get along. I remember begging God over and over again to take my life and take me to heaven. Many stitches and psychological visits later, I decided to ride the storm out and stop my attempts.
In an amazing transformation, Jesus appeared to me in a dream one night. In the dream, I was sitting on the beach and he was walking on the water wearing a wine colored robe with angels walking in front of him. He appeared to be about seven stories tall. He looked directly at me and waved. His eyes pierced me. I could feel his love penetrating into my soul and heart, flowing over me like a wave. As our eyes connected, it was at that moment that I finally understood the love of God. It was that instant that I realized that God had a purpose for my life. Quickly, I bowed down to worship him, and in a split second, the dream was gone and I found myself in bed, sobbing like a baby.
I thought my life was a mistake for many years. God doesn’t make mistakes. He has a purpose for me. If no one else loved me, God still did. Jesus Christ loved me so much that He even took the nails and accepted death on the cross for me. Although He would use me in a variety of ministries to touch lives in the many years to come (including directing a homeless ministry where Paul was once homeless as a child), it wasn’t my talents or my work that interested God. His interest was and is for me. He is interested in a relationship with me. He blessed my life so much the years following my salvation. I had no idea how wonderful things would be, and sadly, if my suicide attempts had succeeded, I would have never known or experienced those blessings.
Jesus loves Paul too. God had a purpose for Paul’s life. Unfortunately, Paul never found it. I wonder if anyone told Paul of God’s love, or about salvation and grace? I came to realize that during those horrible lonely times in my life, God was there, holding me in the dark. When my heart was breaking, His was too. God’s heart is still breaking for Paul, and for anyone else in His creation who thinks life isn’t worth living.
[Matthew Eldridge is a husband, father, teacher, writer, musician and poet. He is also the producer of Rock-it Television.]
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