Do you know about All Saint Day? Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe God wipes away every tear from every eye?Apocalyptic salvation and such.
I don't know what I believe about all that. I don't know what I believe about heaven. I hope there is one... But mainly I try to be present. I try to remember that grace and redemption are present powers we all have.
I know living Saints: those who struggle and suffer and still love, forgive, and move forward. Though she would roll her eyes reading this and scoff and argue, one of my Saints has been Kim Tate.
I met Kim when I was in a wheel chair. I was recovering from a major surgery on my right ovary. Thirteen years old with staples and the voices of doctors ringing in my head, " you will likely not have children." My abdomen was opened up and cysts and a tumor were removed. I sat in a wheelchair outside of the building where my youth group met for Wednesday night worship. Kim and I still laugh about that night, because she thought I was paralyzed when she saw me. Paralysis isn't funny, usually, but for some reason we both giggle. Dark humor, I guess? That was the first night I met Kim. Shortly after that evening she adopted me, for some reason. We connected. She listened to me, trusted me, and believed in me. Through junior high and high school Kim guided me.
Our lives have delicately woven in and out of each other. Our stories have been narratives of growth, suffering, and the realization of the utter grace that surrounds both our lives.
One day, in high school, I woke up from yet another nightmare about the sexual abuse I'd experienced as a child. I was covered in sweat and my heart raced. Another night of fighting off aggressors and watching as my small body was hurt, over and over again. In my dream I'd float above the younger version of myself. I would watch over and over as I was abused. In my dream I always tried to fight, but I could never win and no one ever came to save me. I sat up on my futon shaking and breathing and tired. Could I keep doing this, these nightmares? I couldn't. I told my mother about my abuse... her response was not favorable. I hated my mother for a long time for lack of response to the abuse I received as a child. I hate her and I suffered silently. The suffering worsened after the death of my best friend's mother. I worked on Joan the day I saw her lifeless on the couch. I executed each step to CPR the way I was taught in my babysitting courses. Paige, my best friend at the time, came to my house frighten: "my mom won't wake up." I left her at my home and sprinted toward her house up the hill. I called 911, I did rounds of CPR, but Joan was dead. Shortly after her death the nightmares started to worsen. It is clear, now, that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had PTSD like the soldiers from Vietnam.
Oh, the things I'd seen on the battle field. The battle field, though, was my life.
That Wednesday morning I woke up and wrote the letter that many others have written before me. I said my goodbye. I said I love you. I said, " I can't do this anymore..." I made my plans to take my life. I had the pills. I went to school and paced myself through another day. I'd stare off into space, not hearing the teacher lecture, and not feeling my body. Therapists and psychologists call it "disassociation". I had no one around me to understand what was happening, and I didn't know what was happening either. I just knew I couldn't do another day of pretending and struggling and fighting to be alive and tortured. That evening I went to church because I wanted to sing one last time. Singing was something that held me together. I would miss singing. I sobbed as I lead worship and looked at the faces of my friends. I said a silent goodbye to each of them in my head. When church was over, I packed up my things and headed toward my car. Kim stopped me and hugged me with the deep embrace she is known for. She put both of her hands firmly on my shoulders and looked in my eyes. I could feel her oval acrylic nails pressed into my shoulder. I stared at her hair slicked back and pulled into a ponytail. She had weave wrapped around her bun to add volume to her hairstyle. I avoided eye contact as much as I could. "You know how much you are loved, Jasmine" she questioned me. She corrected, "You know how much I love you, don't you Jasmine?" I faked a smile and responded, "Yes, thank you." I couldn't look up at this point. If I did I felt all at once I would melt and she would know what I planned to do. I don't know if she sensed the disbelief in my voice, but she doubled down: "Jasmine, The Lord has amazing things planned for you. He really does. I KNOW he does. You are so young and you are already changing the lives of people around you, you've changed my life... and I am so grateful for you." I teared up. Kim smiled at me and continued, "I love you. YOU need to know that you can come to me if you need anything, anything ever." I nodded and hugged her back.
I got in my car and drove home. The 15 minute drive felt like mere seconds. I parked my car at the lake across from my neighborhood. I took the letter out of my bag and read it and cried. I sat at the edge of the grass by the water and emptied the pills into the water. I placed the letter on the surface of the water and watched as the water slowly seeped through the paper. The dark bottom of the lake claimed the letter, and with it my intention to kill myself.
It wasn't until I left for college that I received my diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a diagnosis I am still receiving care for. I didn't take my life that night, or the three other nights I've planned to kill myself. Truth be told, there are other ways I try to kill myself. We all do, really... don't we.
Kim has been my Saint. In some of my darkest moments I listen to her words echo in my heart. When the suffering rings too loud, she is just a call away. When I think about those who die and wonder about passing into a heaven after this life, I think about Kim. She is proof of heaven. How could there not be a second life for hearts like hers? Saints are the people who save us over and over again and never even know it.